It was still bright and sunny in Tokyo on Thursday when tournament organizers took the unprecedented step of canceling two games scheduled for Saturday — the Pool C decider between England and France in Yokohama and the Pool B game between defending champion New Zealand and Italy in the city of Toyota — because of the anticipated impact of Typhoon Hagibis on the weekend.
Organizers will leave a decision until Sunday on the Japan-Scotland match at Yokohama, which is scheduled to conclude the group stage that night. Scotland needs to win that game to have any chance of advancing.
The safety of players, fans and workers was paramount, Rugby World Cup organizers said, and added that under tournament rules, any canceled games will be logged as 0-0 ties with two competition points going to each team. That rules Italy out of any chance of finishing first or second in a group containing former champions New Zealand and South Africa. It also means England tops its group without having to play second-place France.
Organizers said no group matches could be rescheduled to later days, and added that logistical issues meant those games couldn't be played at alternative venues, either. The safety-first approach was widely accepted, given the warnings from Japan's weather bureau, but the decision not to build reserve days into the group-stage schedule for the first Rugby World Cup in Asia was heavily criticized by Italy captain Sergio Parisse.
"If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been canceled," Parisse, who has 142 test caps and is playing at his fifth World Cup, told a news conference. "It is ridiculous that a decision of this nature has been made because it isn't like the fans arrived yesterday. It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B, because it isn't news that typhoons hit Japan.
"Sure, everyone might think that Italy versus New Zealand being canceled counts for nothing because we'd have lost anyway, but we deserved to be respected as a team." The Japan Meteorological Agency is warning the typhoon may bring torrential rain and strong winds to central parts of the country over Saturday and Sunday and urged people to take precautions to avoid potentially life-threatening danger. Airlines and train services anticipate cancellations in what is expected to be the most destructive typhoon of 2019. It was generating winds up to 270 kph (168 mph) Thursday morning but was expected to weaken over cooler waters as it nears Japan's main island.
World Rugby tournament director Alan Gilpin said organizers explored options to enable all of Saturday's games to be played, but "it would be grossly irresponsible to leave teams, fans, volunteers ... exposed during what is predicted to be a severe typhoon." Friday's game between Australia and Georgia in Shizuoka and Saturday's game between Ireland and Samoa in Fukuoka were expected to go ahead as scheduled.
"We've taken the very difficult decision but right decision to cancel matches in affected areas," Gilpin said. "We don't think it undermines (the quarterfinals) at all." The Scotland team issued a statement saying it was working with organizers to ensure the game against Japan goes ahead. Scotland ended Japan's chances of reaching the quarterfinals in 2015. A canceled game would ensure Japan progresses to the knockout stage for the first time.
"Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarterfinals on the pitch, and will be flexible to accommodate this," the statement said.
Japan Rugby 2019 chief executive Akira Shimazu said the decision on Sunday's games could be left until six hours before kickoff. So far, none of Sunday's four games scheduled have been canceled. "We will look at the damage, we will consider carefully," Shimazu said. "We will make every effort so the spectators will see the match."
Gilpin addressed questions regarding the fairness of allowing some teams to play and not others by saying all 20 nations "signed up to the participation agreement — they're well aware of the tournament rules."
"We always knew there would be risks (with the weather) but it's rare for there to be a typhoon of this size at this stage of the year," he said. "We have no regrets." There are weather contingencies in place for the knockout phase, he said. Eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinals, and there's only three venues hosting the remaining games.
England coach Eddie Jones said he had no problems with the tournament decision and his team was "getting on with it." New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said the cancellation of the All Blacks' last game was "a no-brainer."
"When you get a typhoon to the level we're getting, then safety is the paramount thing," Hansen said. "The most important thing that happens now is how we adapt and adjust to it." Japan's central Pacific coast may see torrential rains beginning Friday and the high waves and tides may cause flooding. Japan is regularly hit by Pacific storms. Typhoon Faxai caused massive power outages in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo last month.
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