Scottish rugby chiefs are prepared to go to war with the game’s governing body to ensure that their decisive World Cup match against Japan goes ahead.
Reports suggest the SRU is ready to take legal action against World Rugby if it cancels the final Pool A game which is scheduled to take place in Yokohama on Sunday as Super Typhoon Hagibis prepares to wreak havoc across Japan’s eastern coast.
Such a scenario would result in the match being declared a draw and Scotland exiting the World Cup. The Scots need to win to have a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
The two Saturday matches – England v France and New Zealand v Italy – were both cancelled yesterday due to the impending storm. But World Rugby has delayed a decision on Scotland against Japan until the morning of the game in the hope that the worst of the weather will have passed.
Gregor Townsend, Scotland’s head coach, insists there is an allowance for force majeure – unforeseeable circumstances – which includes a “storm or tempest” in the participation agreement signed by competing teams over matches that cannot be played. He believes this would allow the match to be rearranged if necessary.
However, World Cup rules state that “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”.
Senior SRU officials, including chief executive Mark Dodson, spent much of Thursday locked in talks with World Rugby officials in a bid to find a solution to a situation which could eliminate Scotland at the pool stage for only the second time in nine World Cup tournaments. The threat of legal action is understood to be a real one.
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.”
Townsend said: “The way I read the rules was that you can’t change days but you could change venues and contingencies would be in place.
“I’ve since been told there is force majeure [measures in the rules] and things can change because of exceptional circumstances.
“If that means Monday because it takes a day for things to be put back in order then who knows. But right now I think they’re planning on it going ahead on Sunday.”
However, tournament director Alan Gilpin appeared to rule out a change of date.
Asked if Scotland’s game could be pushed back 24 hours, he told an emergency press conference in Tokyo: “We have looked again at the potential to apply some consistency to our contingency plan across all the games and we treat all the matches fairly.
“Italy are in the same position as Scotland are in. It is a huge match and we would love to play that game. But we won’t treat that match any differently.”
The gathering storm Hagibis, which is being predicted as the fiercest in the world this year, is forecast to wreak havoc on the Tokyo-Yokohama area. England’s final Pool C match against France in Yokohama on Saturday, with both teams already qualified for the quarter-finals, has been cancelled and, under tournament rules, deemed a 0-0 draw with two points awarded to each team. England have now won Pool C on 17 points, with France in second place.
The New Zealand v Italy game in Toyota, in which the Azzurri retained a slim hope of reaching the last eight, has also been scrapped.
World Rugby said that the Japan-Scotland game was “under review”.
“Every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled,” said the governing body in a statement.
“A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made on Sunday morning.”
It is 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 yesterday.
Scotland’s main line of argument will be to cite force majeure and point out that the tournament rules are subject to World Rugby’s judgment, and will make a plea to consider wielding these powers if the circumstances are deemed appropriate.