W e have been hunkering down in Japan along with the rest of this country which never underestimates the danger of a typhoon, a reasonable position to take since the last big one claimed over 100 lives.
We were advised by one of the hordes of policemen who seem to be the sole inhabitants of Tokyo to clear off the streets this morning, despite the rain and wind being no worse than winter in the West of Scotland.
Things are much worse in the centre of the storm. The news channels were full of scenes of appalling floods including footage of one car, the water lapping at its windows, which still had its windscreen wipers going; the best imitation possible of King Canute against impossible odds.
The point is that the Japanese are the Boy Scouts of Asia, ready, aye ready. They are used to fielding what nature throws at them because in the middle of this storm Tokyo also suffered a minor but noticeable earthquake.
The country expects the worst and that reputation extends on to the rugby field where you know that Jamie Joseph’s side will be as well prepared as is humanly possible for whatever Scotland throw at them should today’s match get the thumbs-up from the high heid yins at World Rugby, as most here expect will happen.
Which begs another question: how could those same World Rugby bosses have done so little to mitigate against the effects of the weather in what is the middle of typhoon season?
Everyone can see the benefits of staging the big one in Asia where the sport is growing fast – and the tournament has been embraced by the Japanese people with an enthusiasm and energy that has delighted everyone and surprised almost as many. The problem was, and the problem remains, the weather.
Typhoon season lasts roughly from August through October, depending upon who you ask, and that is the window into which the Rugby World Cup has to be shoe-horned. If you want to stage the World Cup in Japan for the first time, rather than, for example, Australia for the third, then you have to do so during typhoon season, which still does not explain why the contingency plans appear to have started and ended with, er, “fingers crossed fellas”.
The World Cup rules state that pool games must be played on the appointed day, but why not add a little wriggle room into what is currently a rigid system? If the organisers gave themselves 24 hours, they would probably have saved both of the abandoned matches.
Yes, there would have been inconvenience and disruption but whatever levels of both occurred would surely have caused a lot less damage to World Rugby than match cancellations with everything that that entails going forward. The threat of legal action from Scottish Rugby is the very least of the Dublin-based governing body’s troubles given the dent to their reputation. It would be surprising if careers were not ended by this unedifying shambles.
As things stand, most folks here in Japan expect the Scotland game to go ahead but, worryingly for Scots fans, the precedent has already been set.
Italy were in the exact same position as Scotland, needing to win their final pool game to qualify for the play-offs, and never mind that they were facing the might of New Zealand.
All nations are equal in the eyes of the World Rugby organisers although it is difficult to argue with Sergio Parisse’s comment about how a pool match would never be cancelled if the boot were on the other foot and it was the All Blacks who needed qualification points. Super Sergio, pictured, may be past his best but he had his swansong pulled from under his feet just as the Azzurri had their last shot at redemption denied to them. Stranger things have happened – just ask Japan.
Presuming that today’s match does go ahead, and this was written long before the Sunday morning deadline, then Scotland will have to play smart to win.
There have been a few innovations utilised in this tournament already plus a good many old tricks taken off the shelf, dusted down and repackaged for the RWC.
Wales have adopted South Africa’s use of the scrum-half as a defensive “joker”, with both Faf de Klerk and Gareth Davies given carte blanche to jump out of the defensive line and make a hit. Alun-Wyn Jones can be heard shouting on the ref’s mic , “nine up, nine up” before Davies gains an easy ten yards by sprinting up to catch a big forward before he gets up a head of steam.
Warren Gatland does not have a reputation for innovation but Wales very obviously targeted a drop goal at the start of each half against Australia, flooding the first breakdown, winning the ball with Dan Biggar sat back in the pocket for a couple of plays before he, twice, gets the three points that collectively earn Wales a hard-fought victory.
England have their twin playmakers, and Ireland their choke tackle, while Japan and the Kiwis both employ back rows in the wide channels in attack as is standard in Super Rugby sides. Everyone has their thing, so how, exactly, are Scotland to counter Japan’s relentless, continuity game?
So far Gregor Townsend has not really shown his hand, playing some standard fare against Samoa and Russia whose lacklustre defence, you fancy, offered the Scots poor preparation for what is going to hit them them this morning. The Scotland coach has been building towards this game for the last two and a half years, 887 days if my maths is right, ever since the draw was made in 2017. He has had oodles of time to come up with the tactics that will determine today’s outcome.
At least you have to hope as much on every level, whether Scotland win, lose or draw. If the match is also cancelled Scottish rugby will be left to wallow in our own sense of grievance for the next four years just like, you may have noticed, the last four.
But worse than that, the cancellation of another meaningful match and this Rugby World Cup will morph from one of the best ever staged to one of the worst, and it won’t be the fault of the well-prepared hosts.