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RWC credibility hangs in the balance

Cape Town – Other major sports, such as cricket, often know this much: you control the weather.

So an extreme natural event like Super Typhoon Hagibis intruding on the Rugby World Cup in Japan you cannot automatically be branded as something you can, or should blithely, “work around”.

In situations such as this, public safety is the No 1 priority.

Rugby becomes just what it is anyway: just a game.

I worked in Asia – Hong Kong, more specifically – for four years in the mid-1990s and quickly became accustomed, in season, to the very necessary typhoon warning system.

Major buildings, train and bus stations would exhibit prominent signs in the two or three days preceding one, indicating anticipated strength, by a numbering system, of approaching (or sometimes waning, or veering off) the wind- and rain-laden tempest. .

If it did not arrive in its fullest ferocity, it was notably formidable – even to a Capetonian far from the howling south-easterly summer of the "Cape Doctors" (an annoying little breeze by comparison, believe me!) Or strong, soaking winter storms.

You might wake up in Hong Kong after spending overnight to the equivalent of an entire month (or even two) worth of mid-winter Western Cape precipitation in the space of a few hours and – living in the hilly New Territories, as I did – walk up the road to find your passage wholly blocked by a massive, muddy landslide, rendering public transport inactive and forcing a phone call apologizing for not making it into work that day.

It was completely understood; there is just a fact of life at certain times, even as clear-up damage tends to be staggering rapidly.

Typhoons are violent but usually short-lived, too.

This one in Japan demonstrating ominous signs of rare intensity, the RWC organizers have been forced to take measures to minimize risk to life and limb.

Saturday so clearly appears to encompass the epicenter of the weather around some of Japan's key metropolises and it has meant the inclusion – at this point – of two matches unlikely to impact final placings anyway in their respective pools.

While it is a shame that "Le Crunch" between cross-Channel adversaries England and France will now not take their place, both had happily already qualified for the quarter-finals and the game would have really only been decided (it is now confirmed as England leaders anyway) which of them tops the group.

That, you might well argue, is of reasonably limited relevance anyway: as we saw from the nerve-jangling bilateral meeting between them at the tournament, a toss-up as to whether Wales or Australia could play better in the QFs.

Then the case of New Zealand v Italy is now non-event.

You have to feel some sympathy for the Azzurri, who could still have sensationally eliminated the world champions with a really thumping win at the Toyota Stadium City.

But seeing that Italy hadn't even come close to toppling the All Blacks in 14 prior meetings stretching back to 1987 – they are now technically a "draw", courtesy of the RWC manufactured stalemate – is reasonably safe to assume the status quo ( a wide-margin NZ triumph) would have happened.

Of immeasurably greater concern, however, to the fairness and credibility of the current tournament is the fate of the much anticipated Sunday “eliminator” in gripping Pool A between the host nation and form-gathering Scotland.

It almost feels like Japan's very own final… and frankly every feasible, constructive step MUST be taken to ensure that if the Brave Blossoms are to admire the last-eight cut, it will come by glaringly hollow default.

Should the teams instead be awarded two points each for a “draw”, Japan will top the pool knowing that they have not yet shown that they can beat the Scots, who led the historic head-to-head by a 7-0 margin.

But it would create the extraordinarily undesirable situation – even if there weren't too many Grumbles in South Africa – of the All Blacks, who had won the seismic opener against the Springboks to supposedly tee off the "easier" quarter-final for them. Instead of probably getting Six Nations-based traditional modern toughs Ireland, and Rassie Erasmus' Japanese side meeting charges they whipped 41-7 just before RWC 2019 began.

That whole scenario would just leave a bit of an undesirable taste in many mouths, planet-wide, among rugby aficionados.

One positive, looking at long-range outlooks on some reliable weather websites, is that ferocious winds and a start of more than 140mm of rain are starting to hit Yokohama between Friday and early Sunday morning … but both abating enormously several hours before the convenient night-time kick-off.

Even if the game, as originally scheduled, keeps looking too risky for staging in the next day or two, the organizers and World Rugby would be doing the event no favors at all if it was simply declaring no results with two log points. each, and Scotland go home pretty much the most disgruntled of all participating nations.

The clash has a massive bearing on RWC 2019 as a whole and, whether pushed back 24 hours, played indoors, outdoors, or behind closed doors and still televised to the world, this one needs to happen!


* Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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