Blame it on the weather: how typhoon caused storm at Rugby World Cup

Tokyo (AFP) –


How has it come to this, that ahead of one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the Rugby World Cup, the talk is of weather forecasts and threats of legal action?

Sunday's key pool match between hosts Japan and Scotland in Yokohama remains in the balance, with organisers waiting to see what damage is done by Typhoon Hagibis before deciding whether the game can proceed in safety.

Hagibis is far bigger than Typhoon Faxai, which struck Japan last month causing three deaths and scores of injuries.

For the first time in World Cup history, two matches -- the New Zealand v Italy and England v France games scheduled for Saturday -- were cancelled on safety grounds.

England and France were already through to the quarter-finals, while Italy would have needed to beat the All Blacks for the first time to have a chance of joining them.

Scotland, assuming Ireland don't slip up against Samoa on Saturday, have to beat Japan to go through as two points for a cancelled match would see them knocked out.

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson has insisted they won't become "collateral damage", saying he is prepared to take legal action if the game is called off.

World Rugby argues its rules were clear long before the tournament started, but the Scots believe a 'force majeure' clause compels officials to do all they can to get games on.

Significantly, however, when it looked like Ireland's game against Samoa on Saturday would fall victim to Hagibis, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said: "The Ireland game cannot be postponed, it has to be played that day."

- Santa Claus -

On Saturday a spokesman for World Rugby, which had already expressed "disappointment" with Scottish Rugby, tweeted: "Even with a backup venue for every venue (which there is), it would have been impossible to operate a fair contingency plan safely."

But in the 10 years since Japan was awarded the World Cup could World Rugby have done more to guard against cancellation, such as scheduling reserve days?

Reserve days bring their own logistical problems and player welfare issues, for example if a four-day turnaround between games becomes only three.

And there is no guarantee that a reserve day would escape the elements either.

This not a problem unique to rugby -- several group-stage matches during this year's Cricket World Cup in England were washed out, with reserve days, as in the rugby equivalent, for knockout games only.

Some argue rainy days in an English summer are a fact of life, as are typhoons -- their destructive, life-threatening cousins -- in Japan at this time of year.

So why stage the Rugby World Cup in Japan now?

The reason is that September-November time is the agreed timeframe in which World Cups take place.

"It's always a risk at this time of year with the typhoons, but this is when we play the Rugby World Cup," said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.

"If you play it earlier, you run the risk of people dying on the footy field because it'll be 40 degrees. If you play it later, then that's when we are finished for Christmas so you'd have Santa Claus giving us the World Cup."

- 'Typhoon gods' -

Changing the timeframe could affect competitions such as Europe's Six Nations, traditionally staged in February-March, and the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship -- already curtailed in a World Cup year -- as well as major domestic leagues.

World Rugby is not a one member, one vote organisation -- the Six Nations and the Four Nations countries have three votes each for example.

World Rugby's plan for a new World League collapsed earlier this year when the major powers couldn't agree, suggesting attempts to move the World Cup might prove equally thorny.

Some observers point to how FIFA, football's governing body, responded to the outcry over the decision to stage the 2022 World Cup in Qatar's summer heat by moving it to November-December, interrupting several major domestic leagues.

But World Rugby officials do not have the same freedom of action.

Tellingly, the outcry at this World Cup only really started when Japan-Scotland, which has become a decisive game, was under threat from Hagibis.

England coach Eddie Jones, a former Japan boss, said the weather row should not detract from the first World Cup to be staged in Asia.

"We are in the midst of a great tournament," he said, adding the "typhoon gods" had smiled on England by giving them extra preparation time for the quarter-finals.

Now Scotland will hope they smile on them as well.