IRELAND’S preparation for their final World Cup pool outing against Samoa this Saturday has been thrown into disarray by the threat of a ‘super-typhoon’ hitting the match venue in Fukuoka on Japan’s south-west coast.
There appears to be a very real danger that the match cannot go ahead at the scheduled time and place due to Typhoon Hagibis – or ‘Hurricane Haggis’ as it has been dubbed by Scottish Sun reporter Andy Devlin.
If the game is cancelled, the tournament rules dictate that a 0-0 draw be awarded, which would leave Joe Schmidt’s team on 13 points in Pool A, one behind the number of points Japan currently have.
Crucially, if Scotland were then to pick up two wins and just one bonus point in their remaining matches against Russia on Wednesday and Japan on Sunday then they would also leapfrog ahead of Ireland, meaning the world’s fourth ranked team would not make the quarter-finals.
However, while the game cannot be postponed, it seems likely that tournament organisers will shift it to an alternative venue, which would be hugely problematic logistically, and bad news for supporters and commercial partners, but would at least avoid the grossly unfair and hugely embarrassing situation of a team being knocked out of the competition by bad weather.
A statement from World Rugby earlier today explained:
“The latest modelling from our weather information experts and the Japan Meteorological Agency, indicates that the typhoon is tracking in a north-westerly direction and could bring high winds and heavy rain to southern Japan on 12 and 13 October.
“While it is too early to determine the exact trajectory and impact, if any, of the typhoon at this early stage, as per previous typhoon warnings, we have a robust contingency programme in place in the event adverse weather looks likely to impact fixtures.
“We will continue to closely monitor this developing situation in partnership with our weather information experts, local authorities, transport providers and the teams, and will provide a further update tomorrow. Fans are advised to monitor official Rugby World Cup channels for any updates.”
Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell confirmed that World Rugby have contacted the team over the potential disruption, but was keen to stress that the confusion has had a minimal effect on preparation for the match.
“The boys haven’t even spoken about it, really,” he said. “We just go from day to day and get on with our preparations. World Rugby has been in touch with us and they’re as keen as we are to get this game played.
“I believe there is a contingency plan in place, but I think there’s updates every 24 hours. We just get on with our day job and try to best prepare every single day. We’ll see what comes of that.”
“If you look at the weather forecast, it changes the whole time anyway, so I think we probably won’t know until 48 hours or so before.”
Storm in a teacup?
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend also played down the situation. “My first thought was that it was called Typhoon Haggis, obviously it’s not,” he joked
“We came off the training field today and obviously we were made aware of it. It was passed around the bus pretty quickly, it’s a super-typhoon as our doctor, James Robson, calls it. He’s an expert on many things outside the medical world, one thing being the weather. He showed me a map with its form developing.
“It’s something that’s always a possibility throughout this month in this part of the world. A couple have already skipped past Japan, but this could come into play over the weekend.
“I don’t think it will be a factor for our game on Wednesday, but perhaps we will get the tail end of it in Tokyo on Sunday.
“The Ireland game cannot be postponed – it has to be played that day. If it cannot be played that day then it’s two points for each team. Whether it can be played in another venue, I’m not too sure.”
He was asked if it would feel like a hollow victory to qualify for the quarter-finals because Ireland’s game had not gone ahead.
“Listen, we have to win our next two games to qualify,” he retorted. “That would not change if the Ireland and Samoa game ended up in a draw.”
Townsend is correct in that assessment, but it would mean Scotland go through to the last eight as Pool A winners, which would almost certainly tee-up a slightly more winnable quarter-final against South Africa, as opposed to facing New Zealand (a side they have never beaten in the past).
This ‘typhoon season’ in Japan and there have been other predictions of storms disrupting the World Cup schedule which have failed to materialise, including Typhoon Mitag which threatened France’s win over USA in Fukuoka last week. While the hope is that this one will also prove to be not much more than hot air, it is clear that that it is being regarded as a bigger threat than those that have one before.