Heading home, heads bowed and nursing wounds, Scotland have now been kicked while they’re down and cast as the bad guys by the Rugby World Cup organisers. Misconduct charges have been issued against the SRU for comments made about the potential cancellation of the final group match against Japan, as the destructive Typhoon Hagibis descended upon the Tokyo-Yokohama area.
Tournament director Alan Gilpin, after his nervy and hesitant performance last week as matches were being cancelled and Japan v Scotland was put “under review”, emerged once again yesterday and said that the “comments and behaviours” of the SRU had been referred to an independent disputes committee. He said he would be making no further comment pending the outcome of the hearing.
What happened over the weekend here in Japan was complex and, sadly yet inevitably, fatal. A super typhoon of historic proportions struck, people died and destruction was caused. In Tokyo yesterday we witnessed the unseemly spectacle of the high heid yins of rugby’s world governing body and tournament organisers trying to paint Scotland as insensitive, self-interested pests.
Gilpin, pictured inset, has been involved in the Rugby World Cup in various roles for almost 20 years. Under his watch, the organisers took the unprecedented step of cancelling three pool matches.
“Under tournament rules we’re careful that people behave appropriately,” he said. World Rugby’s stance remains that they had no option but to stick to “rules” which said no pool match could be postponed. The inability to move venues due to the logistical problems and severity of Typhoon Hagibis were reiterated.
It all seems a big leap from insisting “robust contingency plans” were in place when it was announced that the 2019 World Cup would be played in Japan’s typhoon season. When put to the test, those “contingency plans” were to cancel games. A fate that may well have happened to the Japan-Scotland match if not for the intervention of Scottish Rugby.
It seems double standards are at work here.
The word out of the Ireland camp last week when it seemed their match with Samoa in Fukuoka might be in the direct line of the mega-storm was that Dublin-based World Rugby were “desperate” to get the game on, with a venue change to Oita being mooted. Nothing on the record from the authorities, but certainly on the record from Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell and several players.
The England v France cancellation had little material effect but, if it had, you suspect the Cheshire cat grin may have been wiped off the face of Eddie Jones, who spoke of the “typhoon gods” smiling on England who were declared pool winners as a result of the game not being played, with France confirmed as runners-up.
As for New Zealand v Italy, which was scrapped when the Azzurri still had a (slim) chance of reaching the quarter-finals, there has been wide support for the critical comments from coach Conor O’Shea and skipper Sergio Parisse. But where were the Italian federation in this? Pretty safe to assume the All Blacks would have been more vocal in the unlikely event the boot had been on the other foot.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson has critics from many sides on many issues but even some of his biggest detractors have praised him for the stance he took on the Japan game, as he made the plea for exceptional circumstances to be taken into account and the integrity of the competition to be upheld.
As someone who was at Dodson’s press conference in Yokohama on Friday I can assure that the SRU chief was at pains throughout to make clear that there was no argument that public safety was the prime concern.
For once, though, off the field at least, Scotland stood up and said we’re not going to be pushed around. Sadly, the team could not deliver on the pitch against an inspired and quite brilliant Japanese team in a magnificent atmosphere as the game did go ahead as planned on Sunday night.
It was a glorious occasion that the organisers lapped up but didn’t deserve. Scotland, ultimately, fell short on the pitch but the management and players took the defeat with great grace and in an admirable sporting spirit.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said the Japan win was “a victory for the Japanese people and the game of rugby”.
Many of Beaumont’s fellow Englishmen and women were there at the Yokohama International Stadium on Sunday, all in Japan gear and roaring the hosts on to continue what is an astonishing story.
Fair play, but maybe no more jibes about the time Scotland players turned up with Wallaby scarves to watch the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham.
The hosts’ progress could yet propel this 2019 World Cup into one of epic sporting stories but if it does it will be the wonderful, resilient and welcoming people of Japan and their dazzling team that deserve the credit, not the organisers whose legacy will be their failure to complete all the matches for the first time in the tournament’s 32-year history.