[imagesource: Filippo Monteforte/AFP]
Typhoon Hagibis means business.
Yesterday, we reported that the typhoon threatened a number of Rugby World Cup fixtures, and now the decision has been taken to call off two matches.
Saturday’s England versus France and New Zealand versus Italy clashes have been called off – the first-ever World Cup matches to suffer that fate – which means both go down as 0-0 draws.
All of Sunday’s four matches, including the pivotal Japan versus Scotland encounter, remain under review at the time of writing.
For a better sense of how these two results (or non-results) affect the Springboks, here’s SA Rugby:
Each team takes two points from the cancellation – which is treated is a 0-0 draw – which means that New Zealand are confirmed as Pool B winners, edging onto 16 points ahead of South Africa’s 15.
It also means that France – rather than England – are sent into South Africa’s half of the draw as runners up in Pool C.
That would probably have been the case anyway, because the English would have given an unravelling French outfit a hiding, but now we know for sure.
What’s far more interesting is what happens if the Japanese match against Scotland is called off:
…the Springboks’ quarter-final opponents remain unclear. The Springboks will play the winner of Pool A. Ireland’s match with Samoa in Fukuoka on Friday night (Japanese time) will continue as scheduled. If Ireland win that game, they will go top of Pool A.
Who joins them in the quarter-final and in what position may then be dependent on Typhoon Hagibis. Japan (currently top of Pool A) are scheduled to meet Scotland (currently third) in a winner-takes-all decider in Yokohama on Sunday. If the game goes ahead and Scotland win, they would go through in second place (and meet New Zealand) while South Africa would play Ireland.
If Japan win – or the match is cancelled – Japan would top the pool and therefore meet the Springboks in the quarter-finals.
If you had offered Springbok supporters the chance to play Japan in the quarters, we would have jumped at the opportunity, and now we’re just one cancelled match away from a chance at retribution after 2015’s infamous defeat.
In the same vein, though, you would have to feel really sorry for the Scots, who would be ousted from the World Cup through no fault of their own.
Also, spare a thought:
The same can be said for Italian captain Sergio Parisse, and he raises a fair point about what would happen if it was New Zealand in need of a win. Here’s RTE:
“We had the chance to play in a big stadium, against a great team,” Parisse [below] said. “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. The alternative is Plan B. When you organise a World Cup you should have one in place.”
The number eight added that there may have been a little bit of disrespect towards the Italians, with nobody giving them a chance to beat the All Blacks, having lost all 15 of their previous encounters at an average score of 56-10.
“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,” the 36-year-old added.
“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.”
The decision over Sunday’s fixtures will only be taken on Sunday, after the typhoon has made landfall and the damage has been assessed, so it will be a nervous few days for them.
The Springboks’ quarter-final will take place at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday, 20 October, with kick-off at 12:15PM.
Barring any major upsets or further cancellations, Wales will play France in the other quarter-final on our side of the draw, and we would then face the winner of that match in the semi-final.
If the Wales versus Uruguay match on Sunday is cancelled, Australia would then top Pool D with a bonus-point win tomorrow against Georgia, and would meet France in the quarter-final.
Either way, we can’t complain about that potential route to the final.
According to tournament director Alan Gilpin, organisers are hard at work, apparently doing anything other than putting together a proper contingency plan. This from Sport24:
“We’ve taken the very difficult decision to cancel certain matches in the affected areas,” Gilpin said.
“While it’s regrettable, we’ve made, we believe, the right decision with everyone’s safety as the priority,” he added…
“I think what you’ve all seen over the last three weeks absolutely in every respect vindicates the right decision to be hosting a World Cup here in Japan,” he said.
He added that World Rugby had looked “pretty exhaustively” at other options for the games, including switching venues, but “we couldn’t guarantee consistent contingency plans across all those games safely for all the teams and fans involved”.
Gilpin can say what he wants, but if teams are sent home because their matches were called off, for those nations at least, the World Cup will always be marked with an asterisk.
Play the match in front of an empty stadium somewhere else, play it a day later, play it on an artificial pitch indoors.
Spectator safety is obviously a priority, as well as the players themselves, but refund the tickets of those fans who would have attended and get 80 minutes in somewhere (anywhere) else.
It’s simplistic, I know, and there is no quick and easy fix, but the issue of typhoons potentially affecting matches was raised many months before the tournament.
Give me Japan in the quarter-final any day of the week, but ultimately it’s the game of rugby that loses when teams are sent home from the sport’s showpiece without a fair crack at winning.
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