Japan head coach Jamie Joseph has launched a furious and impassioned response to suggestions the Rugby World Cup hosts want their Sunday showdown with Scotland cancelled in order to secure their place in the quarter-finals.
Friday’s arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, which is expected to bring widespread disruption and destruction to the Yokohama and Tokyo areas, continues to pose a threat to the Pool A decider that is due to be held at the International Stadium to round out the pool stage.
However, the Yokohama match which is scheduled for a 7:45pm kick-off could be abandoned if Hagibis’s trail of destruction, which has prompted outrage from the Scottish Rugby Union and a threat of legal action if provisions aren’t made to play the match elsewhere or on a later date, given defeat will send Gregor Townsend’s side out of the competition.
But before naming his side to face Scotland, Joseph issued a fierce statement to stress that his side are in this strong position ahead of the weekend on merit after winning their three pool games so far, and hit back at allegations that they want the game called off.
“These reports have undermined the significance the match holds for Japan,” Joseph said. “We have won three Tests so far and put ourselves in the best position in the pool. I would like to remind everyone that this is not a fluke but is down to a lot of hard work by a number of people.
“This team has been in camp for the last 240 days. While the majority of the players are professionals with company-based teams, as a rugby team Japan is amateur. Other than $100 a day [expenses], no one gets paid for being in camp. I will let you guys do the maths and make comparisons with other teams.
“Everyone in our camp, players and staff, want to play the match against Scotland. We all want to earn the right to be considered one of the elite teams in the world. It is important for us to wake up on Monday and understand we are a worthy top eight team or not good enough. My team is motivated by achieving something that is great, not avoiding an embarrassment.”
While Scotland have not publicly stated their intentions to carry through with litigation should the match be cancelled, The Independent understands that the SRU has primed its legal team to act in the event of their World Cup exit through World Rugby’s decision not to move the match.
They believe that although all 20 teams signed up to the tournament policy that stated any abandoned matches would be scored a 0-0 draw, there are additional clauses that suggest World Rugby are required to do everything possible to play the game. Tournament director Alan Gilpin said on Thursday that the reason for not moving Japan vs Scotland is due to the fact that they can’t relocate or postpone every match affected, adding “if we can't do it for all, we can’t do it for any”.
But Joseph was not happy by talk of legal proceedings and cancellations, and claimed that it detracts not only from what Japan have achieved this autumn, but also from what they plan on doing in the remainder of the tournament.
“All the talk of legal proceedings around something uncontrollable like a typhoon ignores how significant this match is for us,” Joseph added. “I would say it is the most significant in our history. We have never made the quarter-finals before and we have never beaten Scotland. We want to have the chance to achieve those firsts, but we know it will be difficult against a good, experienced team.
“We have worked very hard to get the team to where it is. The best players in the world, and I would include the All Blacks in that, are able to adapt and influence when it really counts. It is labelled as cheating by some, but good players are able to do it and that is what we have given ours. What we have now is a real team.”
Turning his attentions back towards the team, Joseph handed the captaincy back to Michael Leitch for the showdown with Scotland for a match he has called the most important in his team's history.
Leitch will lead an experienced side, which includes the recalled hooker Shota Horie and veteran lock Luke Thompson, for the 32nd time against Scotland.
Joseph had handed the armband to Pieter Labuschagne for the last two games against Ireland and Samoa to help take some of the spotlight off Leitch during Japan's unbeaten run.
"We all see him and feel just how much things he has to do," Joseph told reporters. "He can't go outside the hotel without signing autographs.
"(But) he is the most appropriate leader. And he is the leader for this game."
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