DAVID BARNES in HAMAMATSU
ITALIAN rugby legend Sergio Parisse has accused World Rugby of double-standards after his team’s final World Cup pool match against New Zealand was cancelled because of the threat of Typhoon Hagibis.
Parisse is a legendary figure in the game who has now been denied a fitting end to his 143 cap career, so his words are bound to ramp up the pressure on tournament organisers, who have been accused of failing to put in place suitable contingency planning.
Unfortunately for Scotland, it also highlights why it is so unlikely that their crucial pool match against Japan on Sunday will be relocated or rescheduled if the allocated venue in Yokohama is not able to host the game.
On a day when Italian hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini broke down in tears after morning training in Toyota City as he was told that he would be denied his last ever appearance for his country, emotions are running high in Japan at the unprecedented decision to cancel two pool games [England versus France has also been called off but both teams are already in the quarter-finals], and tension levels are bound to escalate further if Scotland are denied their chance of claiming a quarter-final spot by having their do-or-die game against the host nation called off.
“If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been cancelled,” said Parisse. “It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B because it isn’t news that typhoons hit Japan. When you organise a World Cup you should have one in place.
“Sure, everyone might think that Italy versus New Zealand being cancelled counts for nothing because we’d have lost anyway, but we deserved to be respected as a team.
“It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B, because it isn’t news that typhoons hit Japan. The alternative is Plan B. When you organise a World Cup you should have one in place.”
“If Italy and New Zealand decide they don’t want to play, then fine. But as I said before, if New Zealand needed the points it wouldn’t have been cancelled.”
With the match officially declared a 0-0 draw because of the cancellation, both teams get two points. That leaves Italy third in Pool B on 12 points behind South Africa on 15, while the All Blacks top the group on 16.
Scotland will find themselves in a similar position if their game is cancelled on Sunday, although their frustration will be heightened by the fact that their clash against Japan will generally be viewed as far more winnable.
The big issue from a Scottish perspective is that a precedent has now been set. It will be virtually impossible for the tournament organisers to justify either moving the venue or pushing back the kick-off time on the basis that they did not do so for Italy.
It seems increasingly likely that if the game goes ahead at the scheduled time and at the scheduled venue, then it will do so behind closed doors.
This was also due to be Italy coach Conor O’Shea’s last game in charge of the team. “We had the chance to qualify,” he said. “I’m not saying we would have beaten them, but you want to finish on the pitch.
“I’m finding it really difficult and I saw the players’ reaction after training and it was horrible because these guys have given their lives to Italian rugby and their World Cup has ended on the training pitch, when it should be on the playing field.
“For the World Cup not to finish in front of the fans on the pitch, in front of the fans watching on TV in Italy, it is a hard day for all of us and difficult to put into words.
“I feel bad for Sergio and the whole squad not to have the possibility to finish their World Cup on the pitch in front of the fans, and then together in the changing room. To have to accept it won’t be the case is really, really hard to take.”