Scotland’s winner-take-all game for a Rugby World Cup quarter-final place against Japan on Sunday is still on but subject to an eleventh-hour review as World Rugby axed two Saturday games due to the incoming Super Typhoon Hagibis.
The two games scheduled on Saturday for the Tokyo-Yokohama area, England vs France and New Zealand-Italy, have been cancelled because of fears for public safety as the powerful storm heads towards the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.
Neither of those games had any real bearing on quarter-final positions, but Japan-Scotland on Sunday is a pivotal match with the victor likely to progress to the last eight.
World Rugby will review on Sunday morning whether the game can be played as scheduled but seems to believe that it’s not played at the scheduled time it too will be cancelled.
The game could be played in Yokohama’s 73,000-seater International Stadium behind closed doors if there are damage and public transport issues in the area. If the game can’t be played on Sunday, Scotland were known to be keen to have the game put back a day until Monday in order that it be played, but the tournament organisers appear to have rejected that option.
The Scots are however adamant that their future in the tournament be decided on the pitch.
A Scottish Rugby spokesman said: “We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby at all levels to work to ensure our fixture against Japan on Sunday can be played as planned. Public safety is the clear priority.
“With potential impact on our last Pool A fixture, Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarter-finals on the pitch, and will be flexible to accommodate this.”
Hagibis has been lying to the south east and was set to hit Japan’s southern island of Kyushu but has intensified and tracked further north towards the densely populated Tokyo-Yokohama area. It’s estimated to have the force of a Category 5 hurricane with winds estimated up to 140 mph.
Although it’s forecast to move slightly east and to drop in intensity to a Category One Typhoon, that would still be a fierce storm with winds topping out at 100 mph and heavy rains which could cause flash floods.
The storm has a wide radius and could yet track further inland or eastwards out into the sea but heavy rains and strong winds are certain to affect all of Japan over the weekend.
At a press conference yesterday in Tokyo World Rugby explained the decision to cancel both Saturday games.
— Met Office (@metoffice) October 9, 2019
World Rugby Chief Operating Officer and Tournament Director Alan Gilpin said they now had accurate predictions for the likely impact of Hagibis.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
A World Rugby statement added: “Every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled. A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made on Sunday morning.”
Officials however confirmed that the decision could be delayed until six hours before kick-off, meaning that a rescheduling or relocation of the match has been effectively ruled out.
The cancelled matches have been declared 0-0 draws and the teams awarded two points each. The competition rules do state this occurs if a match cannot be played on the scheduled day, but Scotland are understood to believe there is scope in the regulations for a delay or an alternative venue.
Several alternative venues have completed their World Cup schedules and been converted back to other uses, while moving Saturday games further south where the typhoon will have a limited impact was been deemed unworkable.
If the Scotland game was cancelled they would likely be out of the tournament, depending on whether Ireland defeat Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday night – a game in the original path of the storm but now not likely to be hit.
Scotland would fail to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals for only the second time in nine attempts. They lost their opening game to Ireland 27-3, before rebounding to beat Samoa 34-0 last week and then defeated Russia 61-0 in Shizuoka on Wednesday.
Both games in Yokohama this weekend were sell-outs.