England and France will not play in Yokohama on Saturday evening after World Rugby and tournament organisers took the unprecedented step of cancelling their World Cup match due to the arrival of super Typhoon Hagibis in Japan.
Scotland???s hopes of reaching the knockout stage, meanwhile, hang by a thread with a decision on their final and decisive pool match against Japan to be delayed until Sunday morning, as large parts of the country await the arrival of one of the most powerful typhoons in decades.
Tournament director Alan Gilpin told reporters that ???after extensive evaluation of weather information??? organisers had also decided to cancel New Zealand???s match with Italy in Toyota, which was scheduled for Sunday. That decision eliminates Italy from the tournament; they were still mathematically in contention although it would have taken an unlikely victory over the All Blacks for them to progress to the knockout stage.
The cancelled matches will be treated as a 0-0 draws and each team awarded two points. New Zealand top their group ahead of South Africa, while both England and France have qualified for the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
England, having secured top spot in their group, are likely to meet Australia in the quarter-finals, with France set to play probable pool winners Wales, barring any major upset in the final round of Pool D games.
???We???ve taken the very difficult but we think right decision to cancel matches,??? Gilpin said, adding that Australia v Georgia on Friday and Ireland v Samoa on Saturday would go ahead.
???The decision to cancel the matches has not been taken lightly and had been taken with the safety of players, supporters, and volunteers??? safety as a priority,??? he said.
The stakes are high for the Scots, who would be eliminated if their match against Japan were to be cancelled, assuming that Ireland beat Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday.
Gilpin said World Rugby had no regrets staging the tournament in Japan during typhoon season. ???We always knew there would be risks but it???s rare for there to be a typhoon of this size at this stage of the year. We have no regrets.???
Asked if the integrity of the World Cup had been compromised, he replied: ???We don???t believe so. There tournament rules are not new. We???ve never had to implement them before.???
Gilpin hinted that the Japan v Scotland match would not be rescheduled if the decision is taken to cancel the fixture on Sunday following a safety assessment that morning once the typhoon has passed over the area and headed north.
???Italy are in exactly the same position Scotland are in,??? Gilpin said, adding that while Scotland???s meeting with the hosts is a ???huge match??? that everyone would love to see go ahead, ???We won???t be treating that match, if it can???t be played, any differently.??? Gilpin said the risks posed were ???too challenging??? to deliver a fair and consistent approach for all teams and ensure the safety of spectators. Fans with tickets for the two cancelled matches will receive a refund.
Akira Shimazu, the organising committee???s chief executive, acknowledged that calling off Japan???s final pool match would prove a huge disappointment to fans expected to fill the 72,000-seat Yokohama stadium and tens of millions of others watching on TV.
???We will look at the typhoon damage and consider its impact, but we would also like to consider the safety of the spectators,??? Shimazu said. ???I know people really want to see the match so we will do our best to make sure they are able to do that.???