Tuesday 15 October 2019

Ruaidhri O'Connor: 'Grand incompetence and lack of a Plan B leaves integrity of World Cup in tatters'

A sign outside of the Yokohama Stadium informs of the cancellation of the England v France game due to Typhoon Hagibis forecast for saturday as workmen take down the temporary tenting during the Rugby World Cup on October 10, 2019 in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
A sign outside of the Yokohama Stadium informs of the cancellation of the England v France game due to Typhoon Hagibis forecast for saturday as workmen take down the temporary tenting during the Rugby World Cup on October 10, 2019 in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

WHEN the dust eventually settles on the 2019 World Cup, it will be remembered for an act of God rather than anything that takes place on the field.

Looking back, the names Barrett, Sexton, Farrell or Kolbe will not be synonymous with Japan, but when you say 'Hagibis' the name-recognition will be instant.

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Given the force of the Super Typhoon headed Japan’s way, it is completely understandable that matches will not go ahead in Toyota and Yokohama this weekend.

No sporting event is important enough to put lives at risk.

However, from the moment the game’s governing body scheduled the tournament for Japan in September and October there was always a strong chance it would be affected by the weather. This is typhoon season after all.

Hagibis is something of a freak and its rates of expansion have left meteorologists in awe, but it is typhoon No 19 of 2019.

Climate scientists have found that typhoons are reaching their maximum intensities further north than they used to and that puts Japan right in the firing line.

Even before the tournament, organisers were speaking about having contingency plans in place to deal with extreme weather events. They told us they were prepared.

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When the time came, the curtain was pulled back and revealed nothing.

France v England and New Zealand v Italy were cancelled, Scotland v Japan might follow next.

One team has been eliminated as a result of the decision, another could follow.

Italy might have had a slim chance of making the quarter-finals, but they were entitled to the on-pitch opportunity to qualify.

The odds on Scotland progressing were much shorter, but Gregor Townsend and his players could be heading home without ever getting a chance to progress.

In the context of a storm that will cost the Japanese economy tens of billions and probably lead to death and destruction, the World Cup is small beer.

But for those involved, it is the culmination of at least four years of work, for many it is a once in a lifetime shot.

For Leonardo Ghiraldini, it was a chance to sign off with his 105th cap against the world’s best. The Italian hooker had worked slavishly to return from injury in time, but the rug was pulled from under him.

Sergio Parisse will never play at a World Cup again. It was he, perhaps, who voiced the frustration of the players best when he opined that the game would have gone ahead if it was the All Blacks who needed four or five points to progress.

More importantly, he pointed his finger at the organisers and their lack of a contingency plan.

"It is ridiculous that a decision of this nature has been made because it isn’t like the fans arrived yesterday. It is ridiculous that there was no plan B, because it isn’t news that typhoons hit Japan.

"Sure everyone might think that Italy versus New Zealand being cancelled counts for nothing because we’d have lost anyway, but we deserved to be respected as a team. We had the chance to play in a big stadium, against a great team.

"The alternative is plan B. When you organise a World Cup you should have one in place."

World Rugby said all four unions were on board with their decision, but it’s clear there is some discord in the dressing-rooms.

Supporters, who have shelled out thousands to be here, will be reimbursed but the players can never get the blood, sweat and tears expended to get here back.

And the Rugby World Cup’s integrity will be on the floor if the Scots are eliminated without getting a chance to face the hosts.

Despite the social media theories, there is no grand conspiracy at work to get Japan into the last eight or give New Zealand a break.

This just looks like grand incompetence.

World Rugby say the game will be on Sunday or not at all, Scotland coach Gregor Townsend is citing force majeure in calling for it to be moved to Monday if it can’t be played in Yokohama on Sunday.

There are alternative venues being lined up within the city and the likelihood is it will be played behind closed doors if it’s played at all. A call will be made on Sunday morning.

If it doesn’t go ahead, it will be a scandal. The World Cup is already under pressure from outside forces, it could struggle to recover from this one.

Already, the quarter-finals are imbalanced.

Joe Schmidt has conceded that Ireland will be at a disadvantage to New Zealand if they play next Saturday or Sunday, given the opposition will have a weekend off. England have gone for a mini-camp while Australia are taking on Georgia, France can recharge the batteries before they meet Wales.

Like life, sport is not fair and it’s about how you adapt.

But while public safety is paramount, World Rugby should have done more to ensure their tournament is beyond reproach

"We looked pretty exhaustively at all the options. What is important to note is that where we are is in accordance with what we said we would do before the tournament,” tournament director Alan Gilpin said yesterday.

"Doing that on this scale, with so many teams to move around, and to be able to deliver safely the exit of 12 teams after the pool stage, we couldn’t guarantee contingency plans consistently. If we can't do it for all, we can’t do it for any.

"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 Italians are right to feel hard done by. If they are eliminated, the Scots are correct to kick up a fuss.

World Rugby scheduled this tournament for this time of year, it was up to them to be ready for anything.

It is patently clear that they were not.

And if Japan v Scotland does not go ahead, the integrity of their most important tournament will be in ruins.

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