DAVID BARNES in HAMAMATSU
GREGOR TOWNSEND says he is confident that Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final qualification decider between Scotland and Japan will go ahead as scheduled, although a change of venue or the match being played behind closed doors are realistic possibilities.
While the media release issued and the press conference held by the tournament organisers earlier today [Thursday] set an ominous tone about the likelihood of the game going ahead in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Hagibis sweeping through Yokohama on Saturday, the Scotland head coach said he had picked up a more positive vibe, and stressed that his players are completely focussed on preparing for their do-or-die clash against the host nation in three days’ time.
“We believe the game hasn’t been cancelled because the weather forecast is much improved for Sunday,” he said. “It looks like the game will be played and that’s what we have to keep faith with.
“They have made the call with a lot of certainty and a lot of confidence that the game will go ahead on Sunday night. I would hope that everyone who is involved in the tournament would want the game to be played and that they will do all they can to ensure that it is.
“I believe the game will be played,” he stressed. “It looked like the weather might still be rough on Sunday, and that was certainly the case when I spoke to you guys [the press] after the Russia game. There was a discussion then as to whether we could look at an alternative venue. The situation is changing a lot but what we have been told is that Sunday looks clear now.
The major concern seems to be the damage the storm could leave behind which would present a major stumbling block to hosting a top level sporting event in front of 70,000 spectators.
“What might happen is that the infrastructure might not be in place even although the weather is nice,” acknowledged Townsend. “That’s where we have to believe and have faith in the organisers that the game will be played even if it’s behind closed doors or at a different venue.”
“It’s at night time as well so that gives us some extra time to get plans in place, buses to games and trains and so on.
“Who knows how severe the storm will be on Saturday? But it looks as though conditions will be fine to play a game on Sunday.”
Tournament credibility trumps conspiracy theory
Townsend dismissed the suggestion that it would suit the tournament organisers for the game to be cancelled because that would secure an automatic route to the knock-out stages of the competition for the host nation.
“This is the Rugby World Cup, the biggest tournament that we play in and the third biggest sporting event in the world,” he said. “Obviously we are involved in a game where a winner can go through with certain points and a loser could not go through. So, I’m sure that is has been in the minds of those who arranged the fixtures as well the weather forecast for the next two or three days.
Townsend discussed the typhoon on Monday when it looked like it was going to affect the Ireland versus Samoa game in Fukuoka. At that point he was pretty bullish about the competition rules precluding the postponement of any game, but that could now be an argument made by Scottish Rugby if a Sunday night match is deemed unviable.
“The way I read the rules was that you can’t change days, but you could change venues and contingencies would be in place. I’ve since been told there is ‘force majeure’ (measures in the rules) and things can change because of exceptional circumstances,” he said.
“If that means Monday because it takes a day for things to be put back in order then who knows? But, right now, I think they’re planning on it going ahead on Sunday.
“If it’s played elsewhere in Yokohama or Tokyo on Sunday in a different venue … there’s lots of different venues that might not be affected by the weather. There are training venues. We trained at NTT. Japan trained at Prince Chichibu, which has previously hosted international games.
“What do we need? We need officials, we need players,” he added, touching on the very real possibility of the game being played behind closed doors.
“It will make things very unusual for a World Cup in any sport to be decided by a game being called off on one day. Let’s say you’re looking out your hotel windows at 5 o’clock on Sunday afternoon and it’s sunny. It would be strange if a game couldn’t take place that day or the following day.
“We are three days from the game and if things change with the typhoon, if it moves direction, then we are still a good while out from the game. But we are planning for it to go ahead on Sunday night.”
It does without saying that this is an unhelpful distraction so close to a major match, but Townsend says the team will remain focussed on the task in hand, and do all they can to make sure they are ready to perf0rm at the peak of their powers on Sunday.
“We are going to be in the Yokohama area on Saturday and I don’t think we will be able to train so Friday is now quite an important training session,” he said.
“We know this is a tight turnaround. Japan get a good rest going into the game, as they’ve had for all their games, but we’ve always known we would have a three-day turnaround.
“The players have had a meeting today. We’ll have another tonight. They are firmly focused on what we need to do to win this game.
“For us that [distraction] doesn’t pose too many problems – unless it changes. We – players and management – follow schedules. We know what team-run day is like and what matchday is like. We get on a bus two hours before the game. If we are doing that then that means the game is getting played.
“Japan is a country that deals with natural disasters a fair bit. It gets a lot of typhoons. I was watching a video that says this is the third super typhoon, but there have only been 10 normal typhoons out of 12. There will be disruption, but we would send the advice to all Scottish fans to stay inside. That’s what we will be doing for sure.”