Rugby World Cup organisers have made the “regrettable” call to cancel matches between England and France, and New Zealand and Italy, on Saturday due to the escalating danger of Typhoon Hagibis.
The “violent’ typhoon, rated on par with a grade five hurricane and with winds in excess of 300km/h, is set to impact the south-east of Japan on Saturday and Sunday.
Australia’s game with Georgia on Friday night in Shizuoka will be unaffected by the typhoon, although fans travel will undoubtedly be impacted with a general warning to stay indoors on Saturday.
Typhoon #15 Faxai caused $443 million worth of damage earlier this year and 3 deaths. Typhoon #19 Hagibis is two and a half times the size. It’s pretty unprecedented for this time of year. #SafetyFirst pic.twitter.com/UpQ2epAhAJ— Paul Grayson Rugby (@paulgrayson10) October 10, 2019
Due to the danger and an inability to safely re-locate the games, World Cup organisers have implemented tournament rules that will see the England-France and New Zealand-Italy cancelled and the points shared.
That means Italy have been denied the chance to make the quarter-finals. A win over New Zealand, though unlikely, would have seen the Italians progress instead of the world champions.
England and France had both already qualified but the cancellation means Eddie Jones’ finish on top, and likely face Australia in the quarters.
Scotland could face the same outcome as Italy, with an inspection to be made on Sunday after the storm passes as to whether their game with host nation Japan goes ahead on Sunday night.
If tournament organisers determine it is unsafe to go ahead with the match, they said they would not entertain moving it or delaying it, for the sake of consistency and fairness with the other teams affected.
Scotland need to beat Japan to go through and if it is cancelled, they will go home and the Japanese will progress.
World Rugby COO and Tournament Director Alan Gilpin on the impact of Typhoon Hagibis on #RWC2019 :— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 10, 2019
“This is a complex and dynamic situation which we have been monitoring extremely closely with the assistance of our weather information experts"
Sunday 13 October— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 10, 2019
· 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.
All fans with tickets for a cancelled match will receive a full refund for the face value of their match tickets.— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 10, 2019
“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,” Gilpin 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.”
The latest on Super Typhoon #Hagibis:— NIWA Weather (@NiwaWeather) October 10, 2019
•Wind gusts to 315 km/h as of Thursday.
•Category 5 equivalent strength.
•2nd strongest storm on Earth in 2019.
•Makes landfall in Japan late Saturday with destructive impacts possible. pic.twitter.com/X3VQKl5YMl
Organisers had hoped Typhoon Hagibis would dissipate during the week but the storm escalated in size in the last day.
Weather experts said Hagibis had a diameter over three times the size of Typhoon Faxai, which caused major damage before the tournament began last month, and resulted in the death of a Tokyo resident.
"As you can imagine, the decision to cancel these matches has not been taken lightly,” Gilpin said.
"It has been made in the best interests of team, public, tournament and volunteer safety as a priority, based on the expert advice and detailed information we have available.”
While moving matches was not in the original World Cup rules, Gilpin said they’d investigated “exhaustively” all options; including moving games and delaying them.
But an inability to shift all the teams around, venue availability and chiefly an ability to ensure travelling fans are kept safe, meant they could not proceed.
"As we looked at making exceptions to (the rules), it became clear that doing that on scale of this final weekend, with so many matches involved, and potentially being impacted, and so many teams to move around, it would have difficult to do that. And also to deliver plans to safely exit 12 teams after the pool phase.
"We couldn’t deliver consistent contingency plans across all those teams safely for the teams and all the fans involved.
"So that’s why reluctantly we had to come to the decision if we can’t do it safely and consistently for all the matches impacted, we shouldn’t be looking at doing it for any.”
Asked if the Scotland-Japan game could be relocated or postponed on Sunday, given it is effectively a shoot-out for a finals berth, Gilpin said:
"We have looked again at the potential to apply some type of consistent contingency plan across all the games, that could be affected this weekend. It is important we treat all those matches consistently and fairly. It is important to remember Italy are in exactly the same position that Scotland are in,” he said.
"The Japan-Scotland match is obviously a huge match, we would love to be playing that game. We will be working incredibly hard … and doing everything possible to see that match played. But we won’t treat that match, if it can’t be played, any differently to the other matches.”
The center of Super Typhoon Hagibis was in the Pacific Ocean, and could hit Tokyo this weekend https://t.co/N0lp4nQzMr— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 10, 2019
The Scotland Rugby Union issued a statement pressing World Cup organisers to still find “on pitch” alternatives to cancellation.
“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,” the SRU statement said.
Gilpin defended the integrity of the final eight, given Italy and potentially Scotland may be denied the chance to make the final eight.
"We don’t believe so. The tournament rules are not new to Rugby World Cup 2019. They have been the tournament rules in the event of match cancellations for previous Rugby World Cups. Pleasingly we have never had to implement those rules before,” he said.
"The teams that make the last eight will be determined by matches they have played and the implementation of these rules. We don’t think it undermines the quarter finals at all.”
Gilpin said there were no regrets about bringing the Rugby World Cup to Japan in typhoon season.
"No regrets at all. What you have seen over the last three weeks has vindicated the decision to host the World Cup in Japan, it’s an incredible tournament on and off the field,” he said.
"We always knew there were going to be risks. It’s rare for a typhoon of this magnitiude to cause this impact this late in the typhoon season/. We had robust plans and the plans we are implementing now are in accordance with the pool phase.
"We have a different set of contingency for the knock out phase and whilst it is regrettable, we have made what we believe is the right decision with safety as the priority."
Saturday night's England-France pool match has officially been cancelled due to the threat of Typhoon Hagibis.
World Rugby confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the match would be cancelled with the typhoon on track to hit Tokyo.
New Zealand-Italy has also been cancelled.
Both matches will be 0-0 draws.
Neither of those matches were expected to have a bearing on quarter-final qualifiers but a French win could have changed the look of Pool C and ultimately the Wallabies' quarter-final opponents.
In a statement, World Rugby said "every effort was being made to ensure" Sunday's matches including a pivotal Pool A match between Japan and Scotland and Pool D's match between Wales and Uruguay, would go ahead with a final call to be made on match day.
"Every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled," it read.
"A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made on Sunday morning."
More to come.
Friday October 11
Australia vs Georgia - to play as scheduled
Saturday October 12
Ireland vs Samoa, Fukuoka - to play as scheduled
New Zealand vs Italy, Toyota- CANCELLED
England vs France, Yokohama - CANCELLED
Sunday October 13
Japan vs Scotland, Yokohama - TBC
Wales vs Uruguay, Kumamoto - TBC