With two Saturday games cancelled and Scotland and Japan set to be locked away, the rhetoric has intensified
A war of words on the eve of Typhoon Hagibis hitting the Rugby World Cup
Friday became a day of vocal jostling, as statements burst out of the Scotland, Japan, Italy and World Rugby camps about the issue of cancelled Rugby World Cup games. It all started when Scottish Rugby Union CEO Mark Dodson spoke on BBC Radio 4, voicing his concerns that his side would become “collateral damage for a decision that was taken in haste”.
He would speak again, but not before others gave their view. Many chose today to make one final comment before monstrous Typhoon Hagibis silences the chatter.
The dangerous weather event is expected to bring record-breaking winds and rain, with the Japan Meteorological Agency expecting winds of over 110mph near its centre and gusts of over 150mph. It is being advised that people stay indoors, stock up on supplies and ensure devices are charged, should they need to urgently contact anyone.
So Scotland and Japan are set to spend a day holed up in Yokohama and Tokyo respectively, waiting to find out if their vital Test – that will decide which of the two progresses to the quarter-finals – actually goes ahead on Sunday.
Related: What to do in a Typhoon
Rugby World Cup organisers had already cancelled England versus France and Italy versus New Zealand ahead of the typhoon making landfall on Saturday afternoon. Should there be too much danger, damage, or potential for either, and Japan and Scotland cannot play on Sunday, their fixture will go down as a 0-0 draw. Japan will go through; Scotland go packing.
Yesterday, with Italy on their way home, the great Sergio Parisse voiced his view that had the All Blacks needed the points, the tournament organisers would find a way to squeeze a game in for them.
It all escalated from there, beginning with Dodson. He said on the radio: “My point is that World Rugby will be listening to what is happening around the world – I think opinion on social media is rising all the time about the injustice of this.
“I feel for our Italian friends as well, they had no participation in any of the decisions and they are on their way home already, and my view is that we’re not going to let Scotland be the collateral damage for a decision that was taken in haste.”
Next up was Japan coach Jamie Joseph, who named his side to play the Scots (should the game be on) but was not happy with any suggestion his charges were pumped for a call-off. He said: “We have played and won three Test matches and that’s put us in the best position in our pool. I’d like to remind everybody it hasn’t been a fluke. It’s been a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”
Soon he added: “The key difference here between us and Scotland is that we are driven and supported by the whole country. My team is motivated by achieving something that is great, and not by avoiding an embarrassment.”
Like Joseph, Scotland’s Gregor Townsend has the hard job of keeping a Test side certain a game is going ahead, while stuck in a hotel. Both want to play rugby if possible on Sunday. But whilst announcing his own team, Townsend was drawn in.
“I did see Jamie’s comments,” he said with a smile. “We know it wouldn’t be an embarrassment to lose to Japan, we know they are an excellent side and we will have to play very well to win.
“I had a good laugh about (the comments). You may know coaches use press conference to put messages out and get a response. Sometimes you don’t get one.”
Both sides say they genuinely believe the game will be on. Away from the mics, there is a sense of sunny optimism about some of the Scots. There were yet more views to come in front of recorders, though.
Next up was Italy boss Conor O’Shea. Talking to The Telegraph, he said: “Sport is sport for a reason. It is unpredictable. We didn’t get the opportunity to take on the All Blacks, the Brazil of rugby, for a chance to go through ourselves. If there should be games cancelled on Sunday and re-arranged, that’s not right. We must have consistency in that regard.”
In front of the press later on in the same day, Dodson would not be pulled towards O’Shea’s view, instead saying that he had to do his best for Scotland, because they “believe that we are being timed out in this competition, and being timed out is not a comfortable place to be”.
They have spoken to two legal minds, with one solidifying their view that there is wiggle room with any agreement they signed pre-tournament. He also doubled-down on the view that they had triumphed in the court of public opinion. But, he cautioned, they were looking for compromise, co-operation, calm discussion.
Dodson gave a suggestion. He feels that although playing on Sunday is the best thing for everyone and there is hope that will happen, holding teams where they are, in Tokyo and Yokohama, for another 24 hours would work if it’s off.
Then he added a kicker. “I want to say this. On the record. I’m convinced the World Rugby and the Japanese authority are doing everything they possibly can to get this game on, on (Sunday). But if their best endeavours fail for whatever reason, that’s when we have an issue. Then it becomes out of our control.
“But what we want to do today, before the weekend, is give people a maximum amount of time to think about it and to look at the optics of this and to make the sensible change for everyone.”
The biggest sound was yet to come though. World Rugby proved that Dodson was right, they had been listening. And they wanted to be heard too. They released a statement condemning the Scots’ public words.
The statement went: “It is disappointing that the Scottish Rugby Union should make such comments at a time when we are doing everything we can to enable all Sunday’s matches to take place as scheduled, and when there is a real and significant threat to public safety owing to what is predicted to be one of the largest and most destructive typhoons to hit Japan since 1958.
“Along with the 19 other teams, the Scottish Rugby Union signed the Rugby World Cup 2019 terms of participation, which clearly state in Section 5.3: ‘Where a pool Match cannot be commenced on the day in which it is scheduled, it shall not be postponed to the following day, and shall be considered as cancelled. In such situations, the result shall be declared a draw and Teams will be allocated two Match points each and no score registered.'”
The clarification then concluded: “It would be inappropriate to make further comment at a time when we are fully focused on the safety of everyone and this weekend’s matches.”
At the moment it feels like people are shouting over the top of each other. Social media is even less coherent at times like this. But Hagibis is coming and it makes its own terrible noise.
Keep track of all the news from Japan via our Rugby World Cup home page.
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