Firstly, some perspective. There are people living in the suburbs of Tokyo who still do not have electricity due to the typhoon that hit a month ago. Lives were lost and houses were destroyed. Hagibis, which has caused so much disruption to the World Cup schedule, is more than three times the size of the last one.
Let’s put rugby to one side for a second. We’re all here living in this micro-bubble of the Rugby World Cup but in three or four weeks we pack our bags and go home. There are hundreds of thousands of people who live here who could be badly affected for the foreseeable future. I feel for the players, fans, organisers and everyone in the rugby world affected but my deepest sympathies go to the people of Japan, some of whom will have to rebuild their lives long after we leave.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as sad and frustrated as anyone that matches have been cancelled and that there are doubts over Japan versus Scotland. As a commentator I want to be talking about the rugby, this beautiful country and the wonderful Japanese culture. Yet I entirely understand that when teams and unions have put in four years of preparation, when supporters have spent years saving to travel over here, there is anger and recrimination. There are so many stakeholders here and each has their own frustrations.
I’ve had fans asking me for tickets for the quarter-finals on Instagram, you have the England players deployed to Miyazaki while their wives and families are under lockdown in Tokyo. It is affecting everyone. The one thing is that a lot of people back home do not understand the size of this typhoon. It’s not something that we ever see, we get a foot of snow and everything shuts down. This is the largest typhoon seen in Japan for more than a quarter of a century. In the UK it is usually Armageddon over some rain and a bit of frost.
As things stand there is optimism that Japan against Scotland will go ahead. It just has to. The No 1 priority for the World Cup organisers is safety but the forecast for Sunday is sunshine. I fully expect that from inside the stadium on Sunday you would not know that there had just been a super typhoon. The problem is more likely to be logistical. Can the safety of fans getting to and from the stadium be guaranteed? But if it has to be played behind closed doors then so be it. I can guarantee that every Scotland player and supporter would rather it goes ahead in an empty stadium than not at all.
The legacy of this World Cup depends on it. It’s the first time the Rugby World Cup has come to Asia and this is such a pivotal moment in how the tournament will be remembered. If the game goes ahead and we go on and have what should be a set of breathtaking knockout matches then we get back to talking about rugby. If the game is cancelled and Scotland go home then it tarnishes the competition. We’re already being reminded of what happened with Craig Joubert in 2015 but if Scotland go out because of a cancelled match it would be incomparable.
It’s an incredibly tough situation for World Rugby to be in. A lot of people have turned into typhoon experts overnight, suggesting these decisions have been taken lightly. Regardless of whatever decision was made, it was going to be unsatisfactory to some. Whether it’s moving the games, changing the venue or changing the timings, it would have affected someone. It was just damage limitation, quite literally.
What the organisers have tried to do is have one option which they can blanket across every single game. They can’t say we can move the venue for one match, but not another. They can’t differentiate in terms of “importance” of the match. They have to be fair for everyone but in doing that, the upshot is that it is still wholly unfair on some, all which comes with the undercurrent of safety coming first.
But I disagree with Sergio Parisse’s comments. I think it’s totally unfair on World Rugby to suggest that a different decision would have been taken if it were the All Blacks facing elimination. I totally understand his anger but I do not believe for a second World Rugby is acting in that way.
Everyone knew the tournament rules and it must be said that Eddie Jones publicly acknowledged the threat from the start. He has experience of typhoons in Japan and was aware of how important it could be to pick up wins early. I know that the players were desperate for the game to go ahead and there were some players who could really have done with the minutes. But England will not be too disheartened and have the benefit of a few days back in the familiar surrounds of Miyazaki – another demonstration of Eddie’s local knowledge paying off.