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What do Rugby World Cup pool game cancellations mean for the tournament?

England vs France and New Zealand vs Italy cancelled; Japan vs Scotland under threat


Japan's 2019 Rugby World Cup descended into chaos on Thursday as for the first time in the sport's showpiece history, World Cup games have been cancelled - Super Typhoon Hagibis the cause.

England's final Pool C Test with France in Yokohama - the deciding clash to determine the winners of the pool - is one of the games slashed and confined to a 0-0 draw in the history books. The decision made no material difference in the sense that both sides were already assured of qualification, but the result denies France a chance to win the group.

The other cancellation so far is New Zealand's clash with Italy in Toyota City in Pool B, also on Saturday - the Azzurri required a bonus-point success over the double reigning world champions, who they had never beaten in history, to stand a chance to progress.

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Rugby World Cup director Alan Gilpin explained matches had to be cancelled due to safety concerns, despite contingency plans to move them to different venues
Super Typhoon Hagibis is due to hit Tokyo on Saturday
Image: Super Typhoon Hagibis is due to hit Tokyo on Saturday

As unlikely as that eventuality seemed, however, such an outcome is not fair on Italy. Not least because it denies the likes of stalwarts Leonardo Ghiraldini and Sergio Parisse World Cup and Italy farewells.

As Parisse said in the aftermath: "If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been cancelled.

"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.

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Italy captain Sergio Parisse
Image: Italy captain Sergio Parisse criticised the actions and lack of a Plan B, calling it 'ridiculous'

"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 England decision means Eddie Jones' squad top Pool C without lacing up a boot, and they will in all likelihood play Australia in Oita in the quarter-finals on Saturday October 19 - a 14-day turnaround since their last Test. The Wallabies must face Georgia in Shizuoka on Friday meanwhile, while England can, in the words of Jones, enjoy some "beer and beef" as the "typhoon Gods smile down".

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Eddie Jones says having a two week break before a Rugby World Cup quarter-final is positive

France will now likely face Wales in Oita in the quarter-finals, also off the back of a 14-day rest, while Wales must take on Uruguay - albeit minnows - on Sunday in a seven-day turnaround.

More cancellations are likely to follow too, with the game on everyone's minds and lips being Pool A's Japan vs Scotland encounter in Yokohama on Sunday.

Image: World Rugby has responded to Super Typhoon Hagibis by cancelling matches - where does that leave Rugby World Cup 2019?

Gregor Townsend's charges need victory over the hosts and to deny them a losing bonus-point - or achieve a try bonus-point of their own - in order to leapfrog Japan and book a quarter-final slot. A cancellation, and consequent draw, would hand Japan a knockout place.

It would see Scotland eliminated without the chance to play for survival and progression, and no matter what way the decision is explained or framed, it is a gross injustice for the Scots.

Scotland players during the Rugby World Cup, Pool A match against Russia in Shizuoka
Image: Scotland now sit in limbo, and could be eliminated without having the chance to play for their place

Such a scenario would also see Japan top Pool A without a ball being kicked, and avoid New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

That is because, owing to the fact Japan achieved bonus-point wins over Russia and Samoa - the latter four minutes into dead time - and beat Ireland earlier in the pool stages, they currently sit on 14 points, and even if Joe Schmidt's men were to beat Samoa with a bonus-point and finish on 16 points, a Japan cancellation would hand the hosts two more competition points, bringing them to 16 also.

Head-to-head is then the next distinguisher, sending Japan through as Pool A winners to face South Africa. Ireland would have a six-day turnaround to face New Zealand in Tokyo, who would have had a two-week break due to their own cancellation.

It is also worth pointing out that were Ireland to lose to Samoa on Saturday without picking up at least a losing bonus-point, something which would constitute a major shock, a cancellation to Japan vs Scotland would actually send both teams through ahead of the Irish - Scotland on 12 points and Japan on 16 to Ireland's current total of 11.

Typhoon Higibis is due to hit Tokyo
Image: The storm underwent an extreme intensification, increasing from 60mph winds to 160mph

Either way, each one of the teams to progress to the last eight are now already affected by these cancellations, due to either themselves or potential opponents having longer rest times, etc. Undercooked, by far the more rested or more fatigued, it is no longer an even playing field in so many ways.

But Scotland's fate is the big one. World Rugby took the decision to break new ground by taking a World Cup to Asia for the first time. They also took the decision to hold it in the autumn as is customary, but in the middle of typhoon season.

This is not some freak incident to have occurred at the most inopportune time. Japan is consistently hit by tropical cyclones at this very point in the year.

With that in mind, it is near inexplicable that contingency plans, of which much has been heard but little to nothing seen, have not been properly put in place for this eventuality.

Indeed, when asked specifically about the Japan vs Scotland Test, its significance and plans going forward on Thursday, World Rugby tournament director Alan Gilpin said the game would not be relocated, postponed or treated any differently, and unless the weather and conditions improve by Sunday, will be cancelled. How can that be? And why is that?

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Gilpin says the Japan vs Scotland match won't be rescheduled if the fixture on Sunday is cancelled

How can teams wait and build over four years for a World Cup? Only to have it ended by causes of which they cannot control? It is enormously controversial. It is nearly laughable.

On the pitch, it will cost some teams hugely. And that is before the monetary affect to supporters off-field is even mentioned.

The fact that Super Typhoon Hagibis should occur on the final weekend of the pool stages, when many games are effectively at knockout capacity in all but name, clearly exacerbates the issue and feeling.

All of that is not to undermine the threat or dangers Super Typhoon Hagibis presents. It is now said to be three times bigger than typhoon Faxai, which wreaked havoc in Tokyo back in September. It has intensified explosively from 60mph gusts to 160mph in record time. It is the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane - the second strongest possible.

A screen shows the potential impact of super typhoon Hagibis as World Rugby announce match cancellations at a press conference held in Tokyo on October 10, 2019

There should be no ignorance as to the need and will for safety during this impending storm. The damage and potential threat to life is acute.

But how has the cancellation of matches been allowed to occur during one of the largest sporting events in the world? With zero apparent plan to keep the tournament going? There has been no movement of games to other, unaffected stadiums (Ireland vs Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday is still going ahead for example). No delaying or bringing forward Tests to alternative days.

The credibility of the World Cup is becoming increasingly stretched to breaking point.

If Scotland do, as is almost expected in most quarters now, get knocked out because of an apparent inability to reschedule important Tests, credibility will surely be all but gone.

The ultimate winner on November 2 may even require an asterisk by their name. *Japan's historic quarter-final place certainly will...

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