England’s World Cup clash with France in Yokohama on Saturday is off – the first time in the 32-year history of the tournament that a fixture will be cancelled.
With super typhoon Hagibis set to rage through Tokyo and surrounding areas this weekend, tournament organisers are due to announce contingency plans on Thursday. However, Sportsmail understands that ‘Le Crunch’ will be abandoned.
The fixture was due to take place at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday evening, at around the time that Hagibis is expected to pass through the area, wreaking havoc. The tropical storm is being classified as ‘violent’ by Japanese meteorologists, with wind speeds likely to exceed 160mph.
England’s Rugby World Cup Pool C decider against France has been called off
Typhoon Hagibis is being put on par with a category 5 hurricane with 160mph winds expected
England had been put through their paces on Wednesday morning with a training session
World Rugby were poised to decide in the early hours on Thursday – UK time – if the Pool C fixture would go ahead as planned, or whether there would be an enforced change of time or venue.
It emerged on Wednesday that the initial contingency plan was to take the England-France fixture to Oita, in the southern island of Kyushu – where both teams will play quarter-finals next week. However, it appears that logistical problems have forced officials to abandon that option.
There was a mounting sense of chaos and confusion on Wednesday night in Japan as teams, supporters and media were left in the dark about what will happen this weekend. Rumours were rife about disruption affecting four countries in particular; England, France, Japan and Scotland.
There was growing speculation that both matches in Yokohama; ‘Le Crunch’ on Saturday and Japan v Scotland the following day, were set to be cancelled.
Yet, there were contrasting rumours that the latter match may be put back until Monday. However, Sportsmail understands that England v France is certainly being called off.
Organisers were considering moving the game from Yokohama due to Super Typhoon Hagibis
England currently top Pool C, and would stay there if the game is recorded as a 0-0 draw
If that fixture and Japan v Scotland matches were cancelled at short notice, in theory that would mean both would be classified as scoreless draws, with each team receiving two points.
While that would not significantly impact England and France, who have both already clinched quarter-final places, it would have a major bearing on the three-way tussle for qualification from Pool A, between Japan, Scotland and Ireland.
World Rugby have emphasised their priority commitment to the safety of participants and spectators, but they will also be desperate to avoid a World Cup match being cancelled for the first time in the 32-year history of the tournament.
England will now qualify in top spot in their pool, and will likely face Australia in the last eight
While the governing body claim to have insurance which covers such freak occurrences, the loss of two fixtures at the 70,000-capacity Yokohama would lead to losses estimated at approximately £30million.
Last month, typhoon Faxai caused considerable damage and led to transport chaos in and around Tokyo, and that was not on the scale of Hagibis, which means ‘velocity’.
While Tokyo was preparing for the latest storm – with early indications that the vast, busy rail network would shut down this weekend – there were also two earthquakes under the city, measuring 4.5 and 3.5 on the Richter scale. They could be felt in the Shinjuku district, where the England team are based until Friday.
The Red Rose management and logistical staff are understood to have been in regular contact with tournament officials, to prepare for all eventualities. There was a concerted attempt to play down the threat of what is coming.
RWC chiefs wanted to try to relocate the game to Oita, 500 miles away from Yokohama
Despite the magnitude of the storm, defence coach John Mitchell said: ‘I think people are making it bigger than what it actually is. It’s just weather. At the end of the day, we’ve got a game of rugby to play and wherever it’s going to be played, we’ll deal with it. Whatever is thrown at us, we’ll deal with it. We’ll look forward to dealing with it.
‘It is important to understand all the permutations and plan for those permutations. Should a decision be made, we can act. We’ve definitely got awareness of the permutations, but we feel that whatever decision is made, we’ll adapt to anything.
‘We’ll just wait and see. Unless we’ve got something definite, we won’t communicate anything otherwise to our players. We’re preparing to play France at the moment in Yokohama and that’s how we see it, so we won’t be giving any information to our players that’s not really definite.’
The cancellation could leave Eddie Jones’s men under-cooked heading into the quarter-finals
Presumably, definitive information has begun to seep through to the England players. While they will finish top of their pool in the event of the cancellation being officially confirmed, this is not an ideal scenario for the Red Rose camp.
It means that they face the threat of going into a likely quarter-final against Australia in Oita next Saturday under-cooked.
England’s last match – last Saturday – became a procession to victory over 14-man Argentina, once Tomas Lavanini had been sent off for a high tackle on Owen Farrell.
Following earlier, routine pool victories over Tier 2 sides Tonga and the USA, it means that the national team won’t have been significantly tested at this tournament, and won’t have played for a fortnight before they take on the Wallabies. It is not the way they would have wished to prepare for such a momentous encounter.