Two Rugby World Cup matches scheduled for Saturday have been canceled on safety grounds as Super Typhoon Hagibis approaches Japan, a decision that has angered some players.
The Pool B match between New Zealand and Italy in the city of Toyota, and the Pool C match between England and France in Tokyo, are so far the only games affected. The games will not be rescheduled and two points will be awarded to each team, in line with tournament rules.
That means Italy, which would have needed a big win over New Zealand to reach the quarterfinals, is knocked out the tournament.
Few would have expected Italy to defeat the All Blacks — let alone with the four-try bonus point that was required — but captain Sergio Parisse was nevertheless left frustrated.
“If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been canceled,” said Parisse, who will retire with 142 international appearances after the World Cup.
“It is ridiculous that a decision of this nature has been made because it isn’t like the fans arrived yesterday. It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B, because it isn’t news that typhoons hit Japan.
“Sure, everyone might think that Italy versus New Zealand being canceled counts for nothing because we’d have lost anyway, but we deserved to be respected as a team.”
Head of the Rugby World Cup Alan Gilpin said that organizers are making efforts to ensure Sunday’s matches are played as scheduled, but will reassess later. Saturday’s public transport in match areas will be shut down and fans have been warned to stay indoors.
“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,” Gilpin said.
“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.”
The Pool C game between England and France was due to be played outside of Tokyo at 4:15 pm, local time Saturday, around when the storm is expected to make a direct landfall at strengths equivalent to a Category Two level storm. Toyota, around 225 kilometers (140 miles) west of Tokyo, is also expected to be highly impacted by the storm.
On Saturday, “conditions in Japan will deteriorate through the day with the worst moving through central Japan late Saturday into Sunday local time,” said CNN meteorologist Monica Garrett.
What do the cancellations mean?
England and France had already qualified for the quarterfinals, and the drawn result means England finishes top of Pool C and will likely face Australia in the quarterfinals.
France, meanwhile, finishes second and is set to play Wales should Warren Gatland’s side defeat Uruguay in Pool D as expected.
It had been suggested that it would be preferable to finish second in Pool C as it would mean avoiding the All Blacks in the semifinals, prompting France’s Maxime Medard to say his side wasn’t going to throw the game against England. As it is, it’s England which could face New Zealand.
The drawn result in Pool B means the All Blacks finish top, with South Africa in second and Italy third.
“Do we charge on and put people’s lives at risk or do we lead and make a decision that’s around making sure people are safe? It’s a no-brainer,” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen. “The man from America (President Trump) could even have made this decision.”
“If we’d had a choice, we would have rather played Friday but it wasn’t our choice, it was out of our control. We have to back World Rugby’s decision and if other teams miss out, it’s unfortunate, it’ll be disappointing.”
Although Italy was a heavy underdog against New Zealand, coach Conor O’Shea was disappointed his side wasn’t granted a chance to produce an upset.
“I’m finding it really difficult,” said O’Shea. “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.”
The situation in Pool B is complicated.
While Ireland’s match against Samoa will go ahead, no decision has currently been made around Japan and Scotland’s crunch match.
A win for Scotland would see it draw level on points with Japan, after which bonus points — awarded for scoring four or more tries or losing within seven points — would come into play to decide who reaches the quarterfinals.
A cancellation — and a draw — would see Japan face New Zealand. Ireland would top the group and face South Africa in the final eight if, as expected, it defeats Samoa.
For now, the Japanese team is preparing to play in wild conditions.
“It’s always difficult to execute in windy conditions but what we will do, whether we’re kicking the ball or moving with the ball in hand, to beat Scotland we’re going to have to be good at both.
“So we need a good kicking game, a good attack and good defense. We’re going to see what the weather does and we’ll adjust accordingly on the day.”