“The reason for those cancellations — an unprecedented decision for Rugby World Cup — is putting the safety first of the public, teams, tournament staff and officials and the volunteers,” Rugby World Cup Chief Operating Officer and Tournament Director Alan Gilpin said Thursday.
Gilpin said organizers will wait until Sunday to determine the status of that day’s Japan-Scotland match in Yokohama, which will close group play. Scotland needs to win that match to have any hope of advancing. Should the game not be played, Japan (14 points) will advance to the quarterfinals for the first time, with Ireland (11 points) almost certain to join the hosts in the knockout round out of Pool A. The Irish are massive favorites to beat Samoa on Saturday in Fukuoka, a match that will go on as scheduled. Scotland sits in third place in the group with 10 points.
A Scotland rugby spokesman said the team “fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarterfinals and will be flexible to accommodate this” should its match against Japan be canceled, but Gilpin said tournament organizers had to treat Italy and Scotland equally while also weighing the safety of everyone involved.
“Italy are in exactly the same position Scotland are in,” he said. “We won’t be treating that match, if it can’t be played, any differently.”
Italy would have advanced to the quarterfinals with a win over New Zealand, a result few were predicting against the defending champion and world’s top-ranked team. Still, the Azzurri would have liked the chance to be given the opportunity, considering that it would have been the final game for captain Sergio Parisse, who said he plans on retiring after the tournament, and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.
Parisse, 36, is the second-most-capped player in international rugby history with 142 tests. Ghiraldini, at 34 one of Italy’s most-capped players, missed the first three games of the World Cup with a knee injury but planned on making his return against the All Blacks.
“I’m not saying we would have beaten them, but you want to finish on the pitch,” Italy Coach Conor O’Shea said. “Anything can happen and you’re very emotional especially for Leonardo Ghiraldini, who missed his last chance to play in an Italy jersey, and to hear that your international career is finished after training is tough to take.
“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.”
The cancellation of the England-France match had less impact, because both already had qualified for the knockout round. England will win the group with 17 points, and France will finish second with 15. New Zealand also had secured a spot in the quarterfinals as the Pool B winner before the cancellation.
Typhoon Hagibis is expected to pack heavy rain, destructive winds and massive storm surges as it glances off central Japan, and weather experts are saying it could be that country’s worst typhoon since Ida, which left 1,269 dead in 1958. Yokohama and Toyota are in the path of the storm.
Tom Moore, a Scotsman who arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to cheer on his team — packing his Loch Ness Monster hat and kilt for good measure — said he would be “immensely disappointed” if the match is canceled. But he tried to put a sardonic spin on things, anyway.
“If you follow Scottish sport, you’re used to saying the best thing is to get there early so you can have a good time before you lose,” he told the Guardian. “We’ve written the book on how to lose sportingly, but there’s not been a chapter yet on losing by default to a typhoon.”
Gilpin seemed unbothered by those who are criticizing organizers for scheduling the World Cup during typhoon season.
“We always knew there would be risks, but it’s rare for there to be a typhoon of this size at this stage of the year. We have no regrets,” he said.