Riders on the storm: World Cup ready for Japan typhoons

Tokyo (AFP) –


Rugby World Cup organisers have learned from a massive typhoon that smashed into Tokyo and disrupted some teams' arrivals, saying it highlighted their "meticulous" contingency planning for natural disaster-prone Japan.

Just days before the World Cup kicks off, tournament director Alan Gilpin told AFP in an interview that last Sunday's typhoon Faxai probably would have resulted in a game being cancelled if it had happened on a match day.

"From our perspective, one of the biggest typhoons in recent years has just come right through Tokyo and Yokohama, right into the heart of the tournament infrastructure for us and reassuringly, no problems," said Gilpin.

The typhoon scored a direct hit on Tokyo and Chiba with record winds and rainfall, affecting transport to and from the capital's main Narita Airport. Power has still not been restored to 90,000 households in Chiba, to the east of Tokyo.

It left England marooned at the airport for five hours while Australia were forced to delay their departure for the tournament that begins on Friday.

But World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said these were "minor hiccups compared to the size of the storm."

"You never know until you execute the contingency plan whether it is on track. But the planning is meticulous and we know there are some likelihoods here that we'll have to deal with. All the plans are in place," stressed Gosper.

Typhoon Faxai had given planners a valuable opportunity to "track that exact set of facts onto a match weekend and work through the scenarios," said Gilpin, who revealed in the event of a similar weather event approaching he would receive updated forecasts every three hours.

Any decision to cancel a match would be made around 24 hours ahead of kick-off, with final confirmation around eight hours before, he said.

They may yet get a chance to put those plans into effect, as a tropical depression has formed south of Japan, with current forecasts showing it heading right for the main island.

- Ale and hearty -

If a pool match were to be abandoned, it would count as a 0-0 draw -- which could potentially have a huge impact on what is expected to be a very tight tournament.

Gosper said it meant teams would be striving for every point and could explain New Zealand's ruthless 92-7 demolition of Tonga in their final warm-up.

But despite that lop-sided "rehearsal", Gosper predicted "the most competitive World Cup for a while," tipping Fiji and hosts Japan as potential dark horses.

Gosper said the recent volatility at the top of the world rankings showed the tournament was wide open. But he defended a system that has been criticised after New Zealand, Wales and now Ireland enjoyed spells at number one recently.

"It's the first bit of movement we've had for 10 years," Gosper said. "It's nice to have that conjecture a little bit. And it's not a bad thing for rankings to be debated.

"In a World Cup, once that kick-off happens for the first game, it's not about the rankings any more."

Both officials said they were delighted with the warm welcome the squads are receiving around their training camps and with ticket sales which are "as close to a sell-out as you can get," according to Gilpin.

As venues put the finishing touches to preparations for an invasion of fans, Gilpin had comforting words on key supplies for rugby supporters from around the world.

"They've got enough beer in, that's for sure," he reassured.