DURBAN – The World Cup leadership will wait until Sunday morning to make a decision on whether the Japan versus Scotland match will be played. I will be on my knees in prayer to the rugby and weather gods that the final match of the group stages takes place.
But even if it doesn’t, hopefully common sense will prevail and the match can still take place on Monday. There is just so much at stake and it would be criminal for Scotland to lose out on the possibility of a quarter-final because of a cancelled fixture.
World Rugby has been bullish is saying there will be no exception made for Scotland because no exceptions were made for New Zealand and Italy, and England and France respectively. Both those matches have already been cancelled.
The All Blacks were guaranteed finishing top of their table and Italy were never going to threaten the All Blacks. England and France had both qualified for the quarter-finals, so it is also understandable that there hasn’t been an objection from the confirmed quarter-finalists to the matches being called off.
But imagine being Scotland? I know if the situation was specific to the Springboks, our passionate and fanatical support base would be in revolt. The players, coaches and administration would be feeling crushed at the unfairness of a situation that isn’t entirely beyond World Rugby’s control.
World Rugby has taken the moral high ground in confirming cancellations. They have spoken of fan and player safety, and they have also couched behind the tournament agreement which every team signed.
The most touted phrase coming out of Japan yesterday was that every team knew there was a risk of matches being cancelled because of a typhoon, given that August to October is when Japan was always at risk to typhoons.
It is a flippant response to a situation that has seriously attacked the credibility of the tournament.
No team had an alternative but to sign the tournament agreement.
All Black coach Steve Hansen said the cancellation of his team’s match was a “no-brainer” and that common sense had been applied. I doubt he would have been as accommodating if the All Blacks were in Scotland’s situation.
Scotland were dumped out of the last World Cup because South African referee Craig Joubert incorrectly awarded Australia a penalty in the last minute. Australia converted the penalty to win the game and advance to the semi-final, and they would ultimately lose to the All Blacks in the final.
World Rugby confirmed Joubert made a mistake, but that was no consolation for Scotland. Now four years later the poor Scots face being dumped out of the World Cup again, effectively in the last minute of pool play.
Japan have been wonderful to watch and were magnificent in beating Ireland. Scotland, in scoring 94 points and conceding none, have been equally impressive in their last two matches. Sunday’s final pool match should be a super moment in determining the last quarter-finalist, but it now shapes as being the sorriest of ways for one team to go through and one to go home.