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Japan's Pool A decider against Scotland should not be cancelled - World Rugby's integrity depends on it 

Japan celebrate victory following the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium
Japan's Pool A decider against Scotland is under threat due to Typhoon Hagibis  Credit: Getty Images

No rugby match could matter more than people and property in the path of Typhoon Hagibis, where the priority will not be tourists from England, France and Scotland receiving the entertainment promised by travel agents.

To non-rugby loving Japanese the sense of crisis enveloping this World Cup ahead of the weekend’s final pool games must have felt contrived - especially in a country that built a stadium to commemorate a past natural disaster. With earthquakes and typhoons a feature of life in these parts, it is for rugby to adapt to the realities of Japanese conditions, not for Japan to contort itself with guilt over a potentially dangerous weather event.

Life and limb come first. Japan must go on with its life long after rugby’s circus has upped and left town. So a little consideration is in order, especially as the tournament organisers were complicit in bringing the event to Japan in typhoon season. They remain right to have brought the 2019 World Cup here. The people, the nation and the Brave Blossoms have seized their chance to graduate to the front-rank of rugby countries and taken great care of their visitors.

These are the most important factors. But World Rugby needed to do its bit by planning more precisely for all eventualities. The confusion over how best to handle the threat to the England-France and Japan-Scotland games was unnecessary. The fact that World Rugby issued a statement on Wednesday night announcing a press conference on Thursday was itself evidence of administrative chaos.

Why wait 17 hours to give the public a clear sense of what the permutations were - and what World Rugby was thinking? With rumours swirling in Tokyo, it was plain the organisers were testing the water with broadcasters who faced the possibility of showing relocated matches in empty stadiums. Had an array of solutions already been laid out in the event of a range of possible disruptions? You would not think so, judging by the claims and counter-claims.

England-France would be cancelled because both teams were already through but Japan-Scotland would need to go ahead to settle Pool A properly. Then we were on our way early to the supposed southerly haven of Oita (one of the quarter-final venues). Then both matches would be cancelled and the Scots would be out. At no point on Wednesday did it feel that an agreed set of contingency plans was kicking in.

In the England camp there was understandable bewilderment. What the hell was going on? Eddie Jones of course has based his whole World Cup campaign on distraction-avoidance. So earnestly have England’s players and coaching staff knocked down any potentially controversial media questions that they they ended up knocking down the typhoon itself, suggesting it might turn out be no big deal, particularly for a team from the windy English shires.

On its way - a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite image showing Super Typhoon Hagibis over the Northern Mariana Islands Credit: REX

The downside to being so disruption-averse is that when real uncertainty arises it can throw the whole operation out of gear. People panic because their plans have been messed up, even when the complication is not really serious. A tournament is a living, breathing thing and sometimes the plan has to change. We were not discussing a threat to the final but some weekend jiggling with three weeks left in the tournament in which to adjust.

There was never any need for World Rugby to consider cancelling the big Yokohama games because meteorologists had not predicted days and days of violent weather (though the aftermath - with infrastructure damage - comes into play). Monday and even Tuesday were always viable days on which to settle any outstanding business, with next week’s quarter-finals also adjusted if necessary.

Central to every calculation was the Japan-Scotland game, on which the integrity of the competition hinged. It should never have been valid to consider cancelling this match and condemning a team in Pool A to a weather-related exit. Scotland and Japan were both entitled to the same level of justice. The romance of Japan’s possible advance to a first World Cup quarter-final gave them no prior claim over the Scots. Rugby World should have ruled out the possibility of a cancellation as soon reports that Typhoon Hagibis were growing in intensity began to alarm us all on Wednesday afternoon.

The only thought should have been achieving fairness to all teams and players: not broadcasters, sponsors or even travelling fans, who have to take their chances on extreme weather events. Instead of clicking into action, World Rugby were reacting to events apparently without a fixed set of procedures for what they would do.

Most of all it was necessary to temper irritation about “inconvenience” with an acknowledgment of how lucky we are to live in countries where earthquakes are not routine and where the first week in October does not bring the 20th typhoon of the year.