THE RUGBY WORLD CUP in Japan has been enveloped in confusion amid growing concern that Typhoon Hagibis could cause three vital pool matches this weekend to be relocated, rescheduled or even cancelled. That includes Scotland’s must-win clash against the host nation which is due to be played in Yokohama on Sunday, as well as the England versus France game at the same venue the day before, and Ireland versus Samoa in Fukuoka which is also on Saturday seems to be less at risk at this stage.
World Rugby and the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising Committee will give a press briefing in Tokyo at noon local time tomorrow [4am on Thursday BST] to provide an update relating to the anticipated impact of the storm on the final round of pool matches.
It was reported by The Daily Telegraph earlier today that the England versus France match had been moved 600 miles south to Oita to be played behind closed doors, but that story has since been removed from the newspaper’s website with a replacement report by the same journalist claiming that the game will now stay in Yokohama after objections to the move “from other quarters” but is now likely to be cancelled if the typhoon continues on its current path.
A subsequent report in The Daily Mail stated that the game has already been cancelled. The report also suggested that the Japan versus Scotland game would be pushed back to Monday. This is against competition rules but a dispensation in such exceptional circumstances can surely be accommodated.
The big difference between the two games is that England versus France would decide who finishes top of the pool (and therefore which team would play Wales and which team would play Australia in the quarter-finals) but both those teams have already booked their place in the last eight, whereas the Japan versus Scotland game is to determine who progresses.
Meanwhile, French website Rugbyrama has reported that tournament organisers have re-thought their original plan to relocate the matches and have now decided to cancel the games if the typhoon hits, on the basis that ‘the logistical constraints of travel and accommodation are more complex than expected’.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said at the post-match press conference following his team’s 61-0 demolition of Russia that he wasn’t aware of any fresh information having been provided by World Rugby, and subsequent requests for information have been rebuffed by the SRU media department.
If any games are cancelled, they will be recorded as 0-0 draws with each team being awarded two league points. In Scotland’s case, that would leave them on 12 points, four behind Japan. Ireland are currently on 11 points, but if their game is also cancelled, or they play and win, then they will finish ahead of Scotland as well – meaning that Scotland would be knocked out of the competition in the most unsatisfactory of ways.
“It is a few days away and it could miss the Tokyo area, or it could still go there,” said Townsend. “Obviously, we’ll be getting updates from World Rugby in the next two days as to what the contingencies are.
“We’ve had contact to say there will be an update over the next 24 to 48 hours, so I’m sure that alternative venues and arrangements are being looked at, not just for our game but the other games that could be affected by it. England and France play in the same stadium the night before. I know it was getting looked at for the Ireland game as well when the forecast was that it was going to Fukuoka.”
Storm classed as violent
The East Japan Railway Compant President Yuji Fukasawa has said that the firm would consider suspending train operations in advance if the forecast path of the storm doesn’t change.
“Typhoon Hagibis, which the U.S. military’s forecasting agency has put on par with a Category 5 hurricane, is approaching Japan’s main island of Honshu after a rapid intensification in the Pacific and could make a direct pass over the Kanto region this weekend,” reported The Japan Times.
“The storm, which tracked near the Ogasawara islands through Wednesday, is forecast to continue moving toward Honshu, weakening only slightly before a possible landfall on Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
“More precise forecasts for its path are still difficult, and a turn to the west toward central Japan or the east toward the sea remain among the possibilities.
“However, its large size means that areas not facing a direct hit could still be significantly impacted. Speaking during a news conference Wednesday, a Meteorological Agency official urged caution against heavy rain, strong winds, high waves and storm surge.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Japanese Meteorological Agency described the storm as “violent” — its highest classification — adding that the storm had sustained winds of 198 kph. The U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, observing higher sustained winds of 259 kph, classified Hagibis as a Category 5-equivalent super typhoon.
Meteorologist Robert Speta, an expert on typhoons who works for the US Navy in Florida, said the storm had gone through an “explosive intensification”.
“The storm went from a tropical storm to a violent typhoon in the matter of hours,” he said. “In fact, it was an historic amount of intensification in such a short time. This only happens when all the right ingredients are in place. Like if you had a fire and instead of throwing gasoline on it to make it bigger you also grabbed some lighter fluid, a bit of oil and a couple of aerosol cans for good measure.”