Rugby World Cup: Organisers drop the ball yet again

5:00 pm on 11 October 2019

Opinion - The folly of awarding the 2019 Rugby World Cup to Japan has been brought into sharp focus.

All Blacks ahead of half time.
New Zealand All Blacks v Namibia. Pool B match. Rugby World Cup 2019. Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan. Sunday 6 October 2019. © image by Andrew Cornaga /

The All Blacks won't play their final group match against Italy this weekend. Photo: PhotoSport

Clearly there are a few strands to this super typhoon story, but the bottom line is that this is the wrong place, at the wrong time of year to be hosting rugby's pinnacle event.

Let's start with the most important bit and hope that Typhoon Hagibis does not cause fatalities. Damage to buildings, loss of power and mass disruption appear inevitable, but let's really cross our fingers that everyone stays safe.

Japanese people are used to this stuff. Upwards of 20 typhoons hit the country every 'season'.

But travelling rugby fans, emboldened by a few beers and being away with their mates, don't tackle typhoons every day and it would be nice to think they'll all take the appropriate precautions.

This is where things get a little tricky for World Rugby.

Mucking around with the tournament's integrity is one thing, but harm suffered by teams, supporters or media would be quite another.

Some will mount arguments that contingencies ought to have been in place. That Japan was awarded the rights 10 years ago, and the draw confirmed in 2016, leaving plenty of time to make alternative plans should typhoons strike.

Certainly Scotland will argue that, given the importance of Sunday's scheduled Pool A clash with Japan.

But that assumes, of course, that predicting the path of typhoons is an exact science. Only, despite the best minds and technology, the size and severity of these storms and exactly where and when they'll hit, remains up in the air.

Oita, on the island of Kyushu, was meant to feel the full brunt of Hagibis.

Now it's a safe zone that, with the benefit of hindsight, some say should have been the venue for either the cancelled clashes involving New Zealand and Italy and England and France, or the upcoming Japan against Scotland game.

Assuming, again, that the teams and their vast entourages could be transported there. Travelling media too. As for fans, that would be out of the question.

But how nimble can you actually be when you're dealing with an unpredictable weather system? Not to mention infrastructure may be impacted for some time after the typhoon has hit.

The fact is you can't. Which is why World Rugby had to take the entirely unpalatable decision to cancel matches.

Rugby World Cup tournament director Alan Gilpin (L).

Rugby World Cup tournament director Alan Gilpin. Photo: AFP

We all understand the notion of act of god. That entirely unpredictable natural occurrence or disaster that throws even the best laid plans into chaos.

Only this was entirely predictable.

We're talking about Typhoon Season here, which everyone knew was a potential impediment to the tournament and for which World Rugby's best defence has been to cross their fingers.

It's easy to say 'well, this has happened now and we all have to adapt to it' and that's fair enough. Teams lose players to injury and suspension every other week and so, yes, they do become adept at adjusting to a change in circumstances.

The All Blacks, for instance, won't be remotely bothered about not playing Italy. For them, pool play is almost like a pre-season friendly; something that has to be endured before you get to the real stuff.

For World Rugby, though, this is a disaster. They look like fools, as they have done for much of the tournament.

In the same way that they've had years to put in place procedures to mitigate the impact of Typhoon Season, they've also had years to sort out what's a tackle and what's not. To decide when is an Assistant Referee or Television Match Official adding value and when are they just ruining things.

Nepo Laulala is yellow carded.

Officiating at the Rugby World Cup has grabbed the headlines a lot in 2019. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The thing about a world cup is it rewards excellence. These aren't your rank and file ARs and TMOs, but the alleged best of the best. Men accustomed to calling the shots.

Try as they might, their very nature dictates they can't just leave the man in the middle to it.

They have to intervene, leaving viewers to put up with endless stoppages to assess footage of potential foul play and a regular procession of players jogging off to the sinbin or worse.

If World Rugby wanted the game to be officiated in this fashion, they should've given teams the chance to make the necessary adjustments a year or two ago. Not here, on the fly.

But then we're talking about an organisation that schedules an event in Typhoon Season and then has no obvious recourse other than to call games off when a threat arises.

Japan is a fine rugby country and an important market in which to promote the game, but this is not the time of year for it to be hosting an event of this scale.

World Rugby, to their eternal discredit, knew that and just blundered along anyway.

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