The Rugby World Cup descended into farce on Wednesday with England and France left in the dark over if or where their match this weekend will be played and if there will be any fans allowed to watch it.
World Rugby have called an emergency press conference at midday on Thursday [4am BST] regarding the impending arrival of Super Typhoon Hagibis, which threatens to bring 160mph winds and heavy rain to Japan across the weekend.
But the world governing body have refused to confirm what the plan is this weekend, and neither England nor France have been told despite some suggestions that the game will be played in the southern city of Oita 600 miles away on Kyushu where Hagibis is not expected to hit.
It is said that the match could also be played behind closed doors, leaving up to 70,000 fans expecting to watch the encounter at the International Stadium Yokohama furious at being locked out of the game.
However, sources have indicated that a decision on the location of 'Le Crunch', should it be played, is yet to be decided, and broadcasters have been advised that the options are now limited to the game being played in Yokohama only, or being cancelled altogether given the logistical difficulties in moving it to a new location at such short notice.
World Rugby have refused to confirm what plans are being put in place for the game, but it appears impossible to stage the game in Yokohama on Saturday evening as scheduled given the extreme weather heading for Japan in what is forecast to be the worst typhoon in 60 years.
No match in the history of the World Cup has been relocated of called off, meaning that either decision on Thursday would prove groundbreaking.
When asked on Wednesday by The Independent whether playing at a new location in front of a closed stadium would be doable, the England camp were far from convinced.
“I've got no idea about having no fans,” said defence coach John Mitchell. “I wouldn't have a clue how it would affect us, I've never experienced that.
“I'm sure World Rugby in their wisdom would consider having a stadium full of people because I don't think it would be good for the game if an empty stadium was the case.
“Ultimately that's hypothetical. If that's going to happen we will make a plan but at the minute that's hypothetical. Why even consider it at this point in time. Wait until a decision is made by World Rugby and then we can go from there.”
A number of England fans in Tokyo who have tickets for the match in Yokohama reacted furiously upon hearing that the game could be moved to a behind-closed-doors location, given that Oita is eight hours away by Bullet Train and easily accessible by flight on Thursday and Friday, before the typhoon is expected to arrive.
However, the logistical nightmare continues in that World Rugby would need to find accommodation for the best part of 150 people spreading across the England and France teams, coaches and support staff, and given that availability is already sparse following Wales’s match against Fiji there on Wednesday night, the relocation plan could be scuppered completely.
Furthermore, Japan’s Pool A showdown against Scotland could be moved to Monday if necessary, although the match will still take place in front of fans in Yokohama as planned, and the hope is that Hagibis will have passed through the area long before kick-off is due at 7:45pm Japan Standard Time [11:45am BST].
The imminent threat of Hagibis to the Yokohama and Tokyo region has World Rugby on red alert, with the weekend’s World Cup fixtures as well as the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka at risk of being cancelled, and to add to the current weather fears there were two earthquakes in the Tokyo area on Wednesday, with a 4.5-magnitude tremor early in the morning followed by a smaller evening tremor.
Across the eight previous World Cups, not a single game has had to be cancelled before, but unless Hagibis weakens considerably on its approach to the main Japanese island of Honshu or changes direction, the final weekend of the World Cup pool stage will be heavily affected.
Before the tournament started, Typhoon Faxai left three people dead in what was the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 60 years, with nearly 1,000,000 households destroyed by the tropical cyclone.
According to satellite imagery, Hagibis is considerably larger than Faxai and of similar or higher intensity after going through “among the most explosive rapid intensifications of any tropical cyclone on record anywhere on Earth”, though the hope is that it’ll weaken the close it gets to making landfall.
England were delayed upon their arrival in Japan by Faxai, with the squad left stranded at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport for six hours due to the travel chaos caused by the 15th typhoon of the season.
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