Wow! I’m still trying to process the news that the England v France game is off.
Their qualifying positions won’t be altered, which is a small mercy, but that’s no consolation to the players and fans who were looking forward to a great game.
In Europe we are used to rugby being a winter game and losing fixtures – although not as many as in the old days – and there have been things beyond our control like the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 which badly disrupted the Six Nations.
If Japan’s vital match against Scotland is also lost to Typhoon Hagibis, meaning Gregor Townsend and his team are eliminated, I would feel incredibly sorry for them. They were denied a semi-final place four years ago by a refereeing decision that World Rugby subsequently admitted was wrong.
I would also sympathise with Japan even though they would progress. The Japanese have been perfect hosts and they are not a nation who like to succeed in anything via shortcuts and luck. This will hurt the country and their rugby fans deeply and they will feel it tarnishes what has been a brilliant World Cup.
The tournament rules are there and everybody has signed up to them. The prospect of such extreme weather – considered remote but nonetheless a possibility as this is the season of tropical storms and typhoons – was obviously factored in. Many of the teams encountered the tail-end of a typhoon when they arrived here last month.
There is a specific proposition in the rules and regulations that in the event of cancellations, games are declared 0-0 draws and two points awarded to both sides. Everybody knew this before the tournament started… but nobody thought it would come into play.
Let’s go back briefly to the Cricket World Cup final earlier this year. The freak six Ben Stokes scored when the ball hit his bat – did you know the law? Then the super over and finally the tie breaker, deemed unfair by some, that England had hit more boundaries in their innings. The point is these regulations were all there in black and white before the tournament began and have to be obeyed.
My other thought with an England hat on is that this will mean two full weeks off between their last game against Argentina and the quarter-final against, probably, Australia.
That is a long time between big matches and Eddie Jones will have to step up the intensity in training.
Is there any more that could have been done?
My first thought was that the games could have been switched to indoor arenas but that is impractical with thousands of fans having to travel at a time when the transport system is closing down.
Perhaps as a last resort the matches could be played behind closed doors but then I am assured that when a typhoon makes landfall even the biggest structures can be vulnerable so just transporting the teams and officials could be dangerous.
The blame game will probably kick off now. In our society today, everything needs to be somebody’s fault. I am not going there. Japan was democratically decided as host in 2009 by a 16-10 vote. This was a decision by the entire World Rugby community, we all bought into it
If anybody had any objections 10 years ago to possible typhoons in October 2019, they had an opportunity to voice them then and vote accordingly. I would also point out that the IOC also voted to take next year’s Olympics to Japan.
Sometimes in sport – and life – we need to take a calculated gamble. For years before the 1995 World Cup in South Africa we were assured the rugby world would find itself in a war zone with the country tearing itself apart in a bloody post-apartheid civil war. It didn’t happen.
It really saddens me to think this could mar Japan’s World Cup but I also have huge faith in rugby and its supporters in being good humoured and sensible if the worst comes to the worst. We knew the worst-case scenario and it was a risk worth taking.