Scotland coach Gregor Townsend remains optimistic that his side’s crunch pool match against Japan will go ahead in Yokohama on Sunday night (7.45pm local/11.45am BST) after a day of drama in which games were cancelled in anticipation of the ferocious Super Typhoon Hagibis which is due to strike at the weekend.
World Rugby took the pre-emptive step of cancelling the matches between England and France in Yokohama on Saturday and New Zealand v Italy in Toyota the same day, while placing the decisive Japan-Scotland game “under review”.
Speaking to the media at a hastily-arranged briefing in the Scotland squad hotel in Shizuoka, the day after a comprehensive 61-0 thrashing of Russia kept his side’s World Cup campaign on track, Townsend gave his take on an off-field situation which has put the bid for a place in the quarter-finals in jeopardy.
“We believe the game hasn’t been cancelled because the weather forecast is much improved for Sunday,” said the coach.
“It looks like the game will be played and that’s what we have to keep faith with.
“They [World Rugby] have made the call with a lot of certainty and a lot of confidence that the game will go ahead on Sunday night. I would hope that everyone who is involved in the tournament would want the game to be played and that they will do all the can to ensure that it is.”
The gathering storm Hagibis, which is being predicted as the fiercest in the world this year, is now forecast to wreak havoc on the Tokyo-Yokohama area, with Saturday set to see the peak of its destructive power.
In a Tokyo press conference earlier today, the sport’s governing body said: “Every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled.
“A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made on Sunday morning.”
The position remains unclear as to whether there is any contingency to postpone the game until Monday. Currently, tournament rules say any pool stage game that cannot be completed on the scheduled date must be deemed a 0-0 draw, which would eliminate Scotland.
An SRU spokesman said: “We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby at all levels to work to ensure our fixture against Japan on Sunday can be played as planned. Public safety is the clear priority.
"With potential impact on our last Pool A fixture, Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarter-finals on the pitch, and will be flexible to accommodate this.”
After yesterday’s match in Shizuoka it was understood that Scotland were pushing for a venue switch to Kobe, to the indoor Misaki Stadium where they beat Samoa 34-0 last Monday, but that option was not mentioned by World Rugby today.
It is believed that Scotland's main line of argument will be to point out that the tournament rules are subject to World Rugby's judgment, and a plea to consider wielding these powers if the circumstances are appropriate.
Within the tournament regulations there is allowance for force majeure which includes a "storm or tempest" in the participation agreement signed by competing teams over matches that cannot be played.
Townsend added: “I believe the game will be played. It looked like the weather might still be rough on Sunday, and that was certainly the case when I spoke to you guys after the Russia game.
“There was a discussion then as to whether we could look at an alternative venue.
“The situation is changing a lot but what what we have been told is that Sunday looks clear now.
“Saturday is the day when the typhoon comes in and it comes in quite quickly. I have looked at the weather and Sunday night looks to be quite calm.
“What might happen is that the infrastructure might not be in place even though the weather is nice.
“That’s where we have to believe and have faith in the organisers that the game will be played even if it’s behind closed doors or at a different venue.”
Townsend insisted that it was business as usual among the squad, who are due to travel to Yokohama tomorrow, even though the already tight four-day turnaround from Russia to Japan has been squeezed further with Saturday looking a non-starter as a training day,
“We have chatted as a group that the game is going ahead on Sunday night and that’s why our game hasn’t been called off or moved to another venue,” said Townsend.
“As I say, the weather is to be good on Sunday. It’s night time as well so that gives us some extra time to get plans in place, buses to games and trains etc.
“Who knows who severe the storm will be on Saturday. But it looks as though conditions will be fine to play a game on Sunday.”
Townsend refused to be drawn on the suggestion that Japan and Ireland given easy passage to the knockout stages might be a welcome development for the tournament organisers and Dublin-based governing body.
“No and you can't [think like that],” added Townsend.
“This is the Rugby World Cup, the biggest tournament that we play in, played every four years and the third biggest sporting event in the world.
“Obviously we are involved in a game where a winner can go through with certain points and a loser could not go through. So I'm sure that is has been in the minds of those who arranged the fixtures as well the weather forecast for the next two or three days.”
Asked how bitter the feeling would be if Scotland were eliminated from a tournament that has been planned forensically for months and years, Townsend said: “That’s hypothetical. The hypothetical we are thinking about is the one about us winning [against Japan] by more than eight points.
“It will make things very unusual for a World Cup in any sport to be decided by a game being called off on one day. Let’s say you’re looking out your hotel windows at 5am on Sunday afternoon and it’s sunny. It would be strange if a game couldn’t take place that day or the following day.”
Townsend was asked whether a scenario in which Scotland were eliminated from the tournament without a ball being kicked on Sunday would ruin the credibility of the tournament and the coach replied: “That’s for you guys to write about. We’re planning for Sunday night. Yesterday we were discussing several plans – could it be delayed, a change of venue? They are obviously confident it can go ahead in Yokohama.
“If they have made the decision not to go out of Yokohama they must be pretty certain the game is going to go ahead there. We are three days from the game and if things change with the typhoon, if it moves direction, then we are still a good while out from the game. But we are planning for it to go ahead on Sunday night.”
The Japan v Scotland clash has always been one of the marquee games of the pool stage and many Scottish fans are flying in specifically for this one and, hopefully, on to the knockout stage, which Townsend’s side would reach if they beat Japan while denying them any bonus points, or beat them with a bonus point and limit them to just one.
“I think the advice would be to stay inside. We have to heed that advice,” was Townsend’s message to Scotland fans in or on their way to Yokohama.
“Japan is a country that deals with natural disasters a fair bit. It gets a lot of typhoons. There will be disruption but we would send the advice to all Scottish fans to stay inside. That’s what we will be doing for sure.”
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