Take time so integrity of World Cup isn’t compromised, says SRU chief Mark Dodson

It may not result in the outcome Scottish fans want but, to his credit, SRU chief executive Mark Dodson pulled no punches as he made clear in Yokohama that Scotland’s World Cup campaign would not be scratched from the record without a fight.

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

Dodson fronted up to the media and made it crystal clear that a straight cancellation of Scotland’s decisive Pool A match against hosts Japan would not be accepted unchallenged, with the threat of legal challenge put firmly on the table.

The much-anticipated pool-stage finale is “under review” ahead of Sunday’s scheduled 7.45pm local time (11.45am BST) kick-off after Super Typhoon Hagibis is expected to blow in with ferocious force in the area on Saturday.

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Dodson’s comments led to a critical response from governing body World Rugby, which may not have assisted Scotland’s cause, but the chief executive came out swinging after the press conference to announce Gregor Townsend’s team for a match that still hangs in the balance.

Asked what progress had been made in the last 24 hours since the Scotland camp had already made clear following the 61-0 win over Russia in Shizuoka that it expected the Japan crunch to go ahead, with a postponement, venue switch or closed-doors option if needs be,

“As it stands World Rugby are still maintaining the position that, if the game can’t take place on Sunday, there will be a cancellation,” said Dodson.

“We engaged with World Rugby as soon as we knew this would be a possibility on Wednesday night. We talked to them and they explained to us that the game would be in jeopardy, simply because of the size of the storm, then if it did go to Monday, it would be cancelled.

“They also told us the England-France game would be cancelled. We absorbed that information, looked it through, and we saw it was based on the participation agreement. We took legal advice that challenged the view, and then we got a QC from a leading sports practice in London, Nick De Marco, and he backed the fact there is flexibility in the schedule.”

The SRU are focusing their line of argument on regulation 3 of the participation agreement which states that, when it comes to “Delayed, Postponed, Abandoned and Cancelled Matches” powers are available to organisers in exceptional circumstances.

Dodson added: “Most of all – and this is what we really want to get across is – our principle concern is for the safety of the general public. This country has a phenomenal track record of getting things back running once they’ve had major disasters – they are used to them and are probably the best in the world at doing that.

“We’re just saying, give them that little bit of time where the sporting integrity of this tournament is not compromised.

“We are questioning that principle statement in the participation agreement that says there is no flexibility and it will be cancelled, we’re saying we’ve got a legal view that says there is that flexibility. We just want to say ‘Guys, let’s be common-sensical about this’, we’ve been preparing for four years like everybody else has, and the world wants to see this game take place.”

Dodson, pictured, was asked if the fact Italy went home after the cancellation of their game against the All Blacks despite having had a slim possibility of reaching the last eight, had set a precedent which could well provide the final word for Scotland.

“It’s not a blow to me,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, Conor O’Shea is doing his job as head coach of Italy and he’s probably very despondent about having to exit the tournament. I can only talk about my job, that I’m paid to do.

“I’m here to protect the best interests of Scottish rugby, but it’s a wider issue than that. I think we are making this play on behalf of the rugby public who want to see this game be played. There’s a massive broadcast audience worldwide, and we have an obligation to our fans, our sponsors and our partners, to make sure we explore every avenue possible. We don’t want to get in some sort of legal arm wrestle with World Rugby, we don’t want to criticise World Rugby, but we do believe that we are being timed out in this competition, and being timed out is not a comfortable place to be. Scotland will be collateral damage and it is not something we will be prepared to sit back and take.”