By Brendan O’Brien
Shoeing has all but disappeared from the game of rugby in the professional era but there had to be a scrum of World Rugby officials who felt as if they have been raked as indiscriminately as any player from the amateur days as they awaited the coming of Typhoon Hagibis to Tokyo and the surrounding regions over the weekend.
The governing body’s handling of this situation has been roundly criticised with the absence of any reluctance to switch venues and/or dates and absence of any real contingency plans perplexing most folk given Japan’s unfortunate and ongoing exposure to all manner of natural disasters. Saying a typhoon of this magnitude was unexpected is true but it isn’t satisfactory.
Officials may have felt that they were doing the right thing by sticking rigidly to rules in cancelling two matches and putting Japan and Scotland on notice of theirs joining the list tomorrow, but it is a stance that has all but ignored the spirit of the law and damaged the integrity of the tournament, regardless of what happens from here on in.
Arrangements should have been in place to cater for games at disparate locations on the basis that a typhoon is unlikely to hit Sapporo in the far north and Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu at the same time. The alacrity with which England left Tokyo for a training camp in Miyazaki after their game was scrubbed is evidence of how quickly a Plan B could be initiated.
Eddie Jones, who has spent considerable time in Japan, certainly seemed prepared for the eventuality, explaining on Thursday how this was always a consideration for England. “We had an idea before we came that it could happen,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it all the time, about the possibility this was going to happen.”
Hagibis isn’t the first storm to have hit World Rugby, just the biggest. Though the tournament had been hailed a resounding success prior to this, there had been deep disaffection before now over a number of decisions and non-decisions made by match officials when it came to dangerous play and/or high tackles.
Issues over the playing conditions under the domes in Sapporo and Kobe have been other blots on the copybook while the condition of the pitch in Fukuoka, where Ireland play Samoa today, is absurdly bad after it cut up badly for the match between Italy and Canada and again when France played the USA.
“It was very tough, very difficult,” said French prop Cyril Baille. “When scrummaging, the ground would come up, it wasn’t firm, and it was hard when trying to push.” Baille was only voicing what everyone else had already seen. The ground staff had to replace a 12-metre strip of turf for the second game and dirt was sent flying as players attempted to keep their feet throughout the day.
Chris Farrell was videoed yesterday picking up a strip of grass like it was carpet and hiding a ball underneath. It can’t be good when CJ Stander and Greg Feek are being asked if the surface was a safety concern and World Rugby had to issue a statement after Ireland’s press conference yesterday defending the integrity of the pitch.
It’s certainly been an unfortunate catalogue of events and the trite observation here would be to suggest that we keep things in perspective given, for example, the fact that the Japanese meteorological agency has said that Hagibis is of a similar scale to the Kanogewa typhoon that killed 1,200 people in Shizuoka and the Kanto region in 1958.
The thing is, perspective has never been far away on this trip, wonderful though it has been.
Ireland arrived in Japan just over a month ago and set up shop in Chiba, the area east of Tokyo that had been badly hit by Typhoon Faxai and where three people died. Almost a million lost electricity for a time and some 44 are still living in emergency shelter in the city.
Homes that were damaged by Faxai could well be destroyed entirely by Hagibis. Nippon Airways cancelled flights in and out of Tokyo today, Japan Railways is suspending all services throughout the metropolitan region and bullet train services have been disrupted too. The southeastern region of Tokai could face 31 inches of rain in just 24 hours.
Rich Freeman, an English sports journalist based here in Japan, put up a video during the week of the damage a typhoon did to the city of Osaka last year. Heavy vehicles were shunted down freeways like dinkies, roof tiles were swept skyward and the side of one building was ripped open and dropped into the city street below.
Hagibis is three times its size.
You could look at footage like that and take the view that rugby is small beer and that there are greater matters of importance right now. You would be right in both instances but Japan is a country that exists on a major tectonic fault line. It is buffeted by hurricanes and typhoons and at threat from tsunamis and yet the country continues on. It rebuilds and it adapts.
There is no reason why this World Cup couldn’t have done the same.
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