DAVID BARNES in HAMAMATSU
SCOTLAND’S continued involvement at the 2019 Rugby World Cup lies in the lap of the gods after World Rugby revealed that the “robust contingency programme” they apparently had in place for the possibility of Super Typhoon Hagibis hitting the Tokyo and Yokohama area this weekend amounts to crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.
Scotland’s final pool match, a shoot-out against the host nation on Sunday [7.45pm local time/11.45am BST], is in serious danger of being cancelled due to the biggest storm of the year. If that happens, it will be registered as a 0-0 draw, with each team picking up two league points. That would leave Scotland in third place in Pool A and therefore out of the tournament.
“Every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled,” said a statement from World Rugby. “A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made on Sunday morning.”
It appears that a change of venue or kick-off time is not an option as far as the tournament organisers are concerned.
Asked at a press briefing at noon today local time [4am BST] for clarification on that, tournament director Alan Gilpin said: “We looked pretty exhaustively over the last few days at all of the options. I think it is important to note that where we are now in terms of cancelling matches is entirely in accordance with what we laid out before the tournament, that matches in the pool phase wouldn’t be postponed or relocated.
“As we looked at maybe making exceptions to that, what became clear is that doing that on the scale of this final weekend, with so many matches potentially being impacted, and so many teams to move around the country, and also being able to deliver safely plans to exit 12 teams from Japan after the pool phase … we couldn’t guarantee consistent contingency plans across those games safely for all those teams and fans involved. That’s why reluctantly we had to come to the decision that if we can’t do that for all the matches impacted [then] we shouldn’t be doing it for any of them.
“It is important that we treat all those matches consistently and fairly. It is important to remember that Italy are in exactly the same position Scotland are in,” he later added.
“Japan versus Scotland is obviously a huge match and we’d love to be playing that game. We’ll be working incredibly hard with our colleagues from Japan2019 and all the host cities and all the authorities on Sunday morning to do everything possible to see that match played, but we won’t treat that match, if it can’t be played, any differently to the other matches.”
“We no longer have a number of those other venues available to us. So it is not a question of whether they have been derigged or not, they are simply not options for us, and actually when you look at the scale and breadth of this potential typhoon there are very few venues we have used that would have been available to us on Saturday as contingency.”
It is understood that Scotland have made it clear to World Rugby that they expect the game to go ahead on Sunday and recognise that could involve playing behind closed doors.
“We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby at all levels to work to ensure our fixture against Japan on Sunday can be played as planned. Public safety is the clear priority,” said a Scottish Rugby spokesman.
“With potential impact on our last Pool A fixture, Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarter-finals on the pitch, and will be flexible to accommodate this.”
The New Zealand versus Italy and the England versus France games on Saturday have both already been cancelled. The second of those matches would not have determined which team progresses to the quarter-finals, but Italy mathematically could have qualified if they had picked up a big enough bonus point win in their game, so that is a worrying precedent as far as Scotland is concerned..
As it stands, Friday’s Australia versus Georgia match and Saturday’s Ireland versus Samoa match are both going ahead as scheduled. Namibia versus Canada, USA versus Tonga and Wales versus Uruguay, which are all on Sunday, are also going ahead at the moment.
Interpreting the rules
The competition rules state: “Where a pool Match cannot be commenced on the day in which it is scheduled, it shall not be postponed to the following day, and shall be considered as cancelled. In such situations, the result shall be declared a draw andTeams will be allocated two Match points each and no score registered. For the avoidance of doubt, no bonus points will be awarded.”
However, it is understood that Scottish Rugby will argue vigorously that there is scope within the rules framework for what is effectively a knock-out game to be pushed back in this instance.
Elsewhere in the rules it is stated that: “In the interests of the Teams, the commencement of Matches at the scheduled time shall be the first priority in all instances. However, in circumstances deemed necessary and/or appropriate by RWCL, Matches may need to be delayed, postponed, abandoned or cancelled. All decisions in this regard shall be communicated to Teams by the Match Commissioner.”
It could, therefore, be argued that it is not an automatic conclusion to the terms of participation that when a pool match cannot be played on the day on which it is scheduled it shall be considered as cancelled (and declared a draw), and that the tournament organisers, Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL), have an overriding authority and duty to allow the game to be played in order to preserve the integrity of the tournament.
There are also provisions in the participation agreement for “force majeure” including a “storm or tempest” causing a match not going ahead at the agreed time, which authorises the Disputes Committee of RWCL to reschedule the match with the minimum amount of disruption and with the tournament’s integrity protected.
The tournament rules also state: “Where a knock-out Match cannot be commenced on the scheduled Match day, it will be considered as postponed, and will be re-scheduled to be played within the two days following the scheduled Match day, or such longer period as determined by RWCL.”
An emergency weather alert issued on Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council, said: “Based on current tracking, Typhoon Hagibis (Typhoon No. 19) is expected to bring extremely high winds, dangerous storm tides, heavy rainfall, and possible flooding to areas of Central Japan, including the Tokyo area, beginning Saturday, October 12, 2019, and continuing through Sunday, October 13, 2019.”
People in Japan were instructed to avoid travel to affected areas until the storm has dissipated.
“The decision to cancel matches has not been taken lightly and has been made in the best interests of public, team, tournament personnel and volunteer safety, based on expert advice and detailed weather information,” said the World Rugby statement. “While we have extensively explored all options, public and team safety was our utmost priority as well as ensuring a consistent, fair and equitable outcome for all teams. All fans with tickets for a cancelled match will receive a full refund for the face value of their match tickets.
Gilpin added: “This is a complex and dynamic situation which we have been monitoring extremely closely with the assistance of our weather information experts. We are now in a position to accurately predict the likely impact of Typhoon Hagibis on Rugby World Cup fixtures this weekend.
“While making every possible effort to put in place a contingency plan that would enable all of Saturday’s matches to be played, it would be grossly irresponsible to leave teams, fans, volunteers and other tournament personnel exposed during what is predicted to be a severe typhoon.
“As a result, we have taken the decision to cancel some matches in order to ensure the safety of all involved. It is the right thing to do, and comes with the support of all stakeholders, including the teams.
“We fully appreciate that England, France, New Zealand and Italy fans will be disappointed, but we trust they will appreciate that their safety must come first. They will be entitled to a full refund on their match tickets.
“Our message for all fans in Japan for Rugby World Cup is to heed all official advice, stay indoors throughout Saturday and do not attempt to travel on the day.”