Reports have emerged in Scotland that the Scottish Rugby Union is “ready to take legal action” against World Rugby, the Rugby World Cup tournament organisers, if their clash with Japan on Sunday is cancelled.
Following the strong public stance taken by both head coach Gregor Townsend – who proposed playing the game behind closed doors if needs be – and SRU chief executive Mark Dodson, the latest reports emerging from Scotland will pile further pressure on rugby’s governing body.
Dodson stated that he will not allow Scotland to be the World Cup’s “collateral damage” and has already intimated that the SRU are looking at their legal options, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, “World Rugby is pointing us back to the participation agreement. We’ve had legal opinion – from a leading QC – that challenges World Rugby’s interpretation.”
It is believed that those in Murrayfield are looking at the “force majeure” measures in the competition guidelines and participation agreements signed by the competing teams.
The Scotsman today reported that “the threat of legal action is understood to be a real one,” suggesting the case will be pursued in the case of cancellation, and is not merely an attempt to force the hand of tournament organisers.
While underlining the priority of keeping fans and players safe, rugby writer Stuart Bathgate says in The Scotsman that “irrespective of whether Scotland’s game with Japan goes ahead or is cancelled, the integrity and credibility of this Rugby World Cup have already been seriously undermined” because of the two confirmed match cancellations.
Bathgate goes on to say that the decision to not re-arrange games “will ensure that this World Cup is remembered not for whatever brilliant rugby may be played in the final, but for a shameful decision which was taken midway through the tournament,” giving some idea of the extent of frustration in Scotland.
The decision to cancel games has been mired in controversy, with Italy captain Sergio Parisse yesterday blasting tournament officials, saying “If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been cancelled.”
Conor O’Shea said there was “horrible” disappointment among his players, with veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini – who struggled to recover from injury for the World Cup – shed tears as the news broke. The 34 year-old was due to make his first appearance in the World Cup against the All Blacks as recognition of his 13 years of service to the Azzurri.
“I’m not saying we would have beaten them, but you want to finish on the pitch,” O’Shea said. “Anything can happen and you’re very emotional especially for Leonardo Ghiraldini, who missed his last chance to play in an Italy jersey, and to hear that your international career is finished after training is tough to take.”
Former England international and Telegraph columnist Brian Moore claimed yesterday on Twitter that New Zealand were sounded out about rescheduling their game against Italy but insisted on sticking to the rules as laid out.
“I’m told New Zealand, and this comes from the people I spoke to, not me, insisted on sticking rigidly to the rules because they didn’t want a shorter turnaround before the 1/4 finals. They are perfectly entitled to take this view,” said Moore.
World Rugby refuted this claim, but Moore later stated that one of his sources was “the CEO of the SRU” when responding to criticism of his earlier tweets.
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