Tokyo: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said cancelling Saturday’s World Cup match against Italy due to Typhoon Hagibis was a ‘no-brainer’ but he also had sympathy for the Azzurri after they were denied a chance to play for a place in the quarter-finals.
Italy’s slim hopes of staying in the tournament were wrecked by Thursday’s decision to scrap the Pool B match in Toyota. Both teams were awarded two points, meaning world champions New Zealand will move on as pool winners while Italy go home.
Hansen said that while having the match called off was frustrating, World Rugby had no other option.
“The reality is we can’t control the weather,” Hansen said.
“Do we charge on and put people’s lives at risk, or do we lead and make a decision that’s around making sure people are safe? “It’s a no-brainer.”
England’s final first-round match against France was also called off due to the typhoon, the first World Cup fixtures ever to be cancelled. Japan’s game against Scotland on Sunday is also in doubt.
Having already lost to South Africa, Italy’s path to the quarter-finals would have involved the unlikely scenario of them beating the All Blacks for the first time.
Hansen said all teams had been aware of the procedure in the event of a typhoon striking Japan, which is why it had been important to take maximum points throughout the tournament.
“If you want to be really ruthless, then it’s all about making sure you win the games on the way through because everyone knew this could be a possibility,” he added.
“That’s pretty hard-nosed, though, because I know if we were in their situation, we’d be disappointed not to have the opportunity to get there.
“So yes, there’s a lot of sympathy for them. But the right decisions are being made, because it’s all about safety.”
Typhoons are not unusual in Japan in autumn but Hansen backed World Rugby’s decision to put on the tournament, the first to be held in Asia, in its usual slot in the calendar.
“It’s always a risk at this time of year with the typhoons, but this is when we play the Rugby World Cup,” he said.
“If you play it earlier, you run the risk of people dying on the footy field because it’ll be 40 degrees.
“If you play it later, then that’s when we are finished for Christmas so you’d have Santa Claus giving us the World Cup.”
The host nation would advance to the quarter-finals for the first time if their game in Yokohama is called off.
Rugby World Cup tournament director Gilpin defended the decision to hold the tournament, the first to be hosted in Asia, at this time of year.
“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,” he said, adding that he did not feel the integrity of the tournament had been compromised. “We have no regrets.” Tournament regulations state that cancelled games are ruled a 0-0 draw, with two points going to each team.
That would be enough to ensure Japan reach the quarter-finals if their game falls victim to the typhoon, which might look like some sort of sporting karma to some fans.
Four years ago, Japan beat South Africa in the biggest upset in rugby history but then became the first team to fail to reach the knockout round after winning three pool games, being edged out on bonus points — by Scotland.
A decision on whether that match is played is set to be made early on Sunday and the Scottish Rugby Union said it expected it to go ahead.
“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,” the SRU said on Twitter.
Ireland, second in Pool A, are due to play their final game against Samoa on Saturday knowing a bonus point victory would ensure progress. A win without a bonus point, or even if they pick up a bonus point in defeat, would also send the Irish through if Japan’s game is called off.
Thursday’s decision marks the first time a World Cup match has been cancelled since the tournament started in 1987.
The 1995 semi-final between hosts South Africa and France was delayed by an hour due to a waterlogged pitch, but famously went ahead after a team of cleaning ladies took to it with brooms.
Friday, October 11
Australia vs Georgia (Shizuoka)