World Rugby has today made one of the largest announcements in Rugby World Cup history.
At 12PM JST, rugby’s governing body announced that two major clashes of the 2019 tournament have been called off due to the impending threat of Typhoon Hagibis.
The two matches in question are Saturday’s fixtures beween New Zealand and Italy in Toyota, and England and France in Yokohama. A decision on the crunch Pool A game between Japan and Scotland is yet to be made.
The cancellations will have major ramifications on how teams are ranked heading into next weekend’s quarterfinals.
England currently top Pool C courtesy of their significant points difference advantage over France. A win for France would have seen them leapfrog England into top place, however, earning them a quarterfinal with Australia instead of Wales.
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In Pool B, New Zealand will take out top spot, as was expected – but the cancellation ensures that Italy have zero chance of causing a major upset and progressing to the knockout stages.
Although no changes have been announced for Pool A just yet, any cancellations could have a major impact.
Prior to the announcement, Japan topped the pool thanks to their exceptional victory over Ireland. A loss in their upcoming match with Scotland could see them drop to as low as third place, however, with Scotland holding down second and progressing to the knockout stages.
Ireland, who are expected to beat Samoa, would take out top spot if Scotland beat Japan and Japan would be consigned to an early exit from the competition.
The match terminations, which will see all teams awarded two competition points, would instead see Japan top the log, granting them a quarterfinal against South Africa. Ireland would face New Zealand.
The final weekend of the group stages has been seen by many as Scotland’s chance for redemption. Since their weak opening performance against Ireland, where they fell 27-3, Scotland have put on two exceptional showings to best Samoa and Russia 34-0 and 61-0 respectively.
Japan have never beaten Scotland in seven attempts. This current Brave Blossoms side is currently head-and-shoulders above any past iterations of the team, but Scotland are still likely to enter the match as favourites if it goes ahead.
Alternatively, Scotland will be heading home with a third-place pool finish.
“This is a complex and dynamic situation which we have been monitoring extremely closely with the assistance of our weather information experts,” said World Rugby Chief Operating Officer and Tournament Director Alan Gilpin today.
“We are now in a position to accurately predict the likely impact of Typhoon Hagibis on Rugby World Cup fixtures this weekend.
“While making every possible effort to put in place a contingency plan that would enable all of Saturday’s matches to be played, it would be grossly irresponsible to leave teams, fans, volunteers and other tournament personnel exposed during what is predicted to be a severe typhoon.
“As a result, we have taken the decision to cancel some matches in order to ensure the safety of all involved. It is the right thing to do, and comes with the support of all stakeholders, including the teams.
“We fully appreciate that England, France, New Zealand and Italy fans will be disappointed, but we trust they will appreciate that their safety must come first. They will be entitled to a full refund on their match tickets.
“Our message for all fans in Japan for Rugby World Cup is to heed all official advice, stay indoors throughout Saturday and do not attempt to travel on the day.”
Spectators around the world will be left incredibly frustrated with the latest turn of events.
Questions will be raised concerning whether alternative options were fully explored by World Rugby, despite the governing body’s affirmations.
Plenty of mid-table movement in the power #rwc2019 rankings
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 9, 2019
Japan have been planning this competition for 10 years. Typhoons are common during this period and procedures should have been in place to mitigate the effects of any storms.
Obviously, the games should not go ahead at their planned locations if there are safety risks, but there should be other alternatives, such as relocating the games to stadiums behind closed doors.
Perhaps, however, every avenue has been explored.
Ultimately, whilst Scotland are likely never going to win the competition and it will be great to see Japan progress to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history – in their home country, nonetheless – the 2019 Rugby World Cup could forever be marred by the fact that the final standings were impacted by adverse weather conditions.
Could rugby borrow a leaf out of football’s books?:
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