Rugby World Cup 2019: World Rugby investigating Scotland over lawsuit threat as governing body hits back at ‘unfounded’ criticism

The Scottish Rugby Union considered taking legal action after it was announced the match between Japan and Scotland was under threat of cancellation from Typhoon Hagibis

Samuel Lovett
Tuesday 15 October 2019 07:05
Following the cancellation of their match, Rugby Canada players help recovery efforts in Japan

The Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) is being investigated by World Rugby for proposing legal action following suggestions Scotland’s Pool A showdown with Japan could be abandoned after coming under from Typhoon Hagibis.

This comes as World Rugby hit back at the “unfounded” and “disappointing” criticism that the organisation was influenced by member unions regarding its refusal to reschedule last weekend’s cancelled matches.

The closing stages of the Rugby World Cup played out against a backdrop of controversy as Typhoon Hagibis, the strongest storm to hit Japan in decades, threatened to derail the tournament.

Three games were cancelled over the weekend – England vs France, New Zealand vs Italy and later Canada vs Namibia – while concerns were raised that Sunday’s finale in Yokohama would be scraped as the threat and scale of Hagibis intensified in the days before kick-off.

Although the match was given the green light, with Japan prevailing 28-21 over Scotland, the SRU suggested beforehand it could pursue legal action in the eventuality the fixture was abandoned and not rescheduled – thereby denying Gregor Townsend’s men the opportunity to secure qualification to the quarter-finals.

Under competition rules, a match which “cannot be commenced on the day in which it is scheduled... shall not be postponed to the following day, and shall be considered as cancelled.” And upon announcing its decision to call off England vs France and New Zealand vs Italy, World Rugby insisted it stood in “accordance with what we said we would do before the tournament.”

At the time, SRU chief executive Mark Dodson said he would not allow Scotland to become the World Cup’s “collateral damage”, adding that “we’ve had legal opinion – from a leading QC – that challenges World Rugby’s interpretation.”

In a press conference held on Tuesday, World Cup announced that the SRU has now been deferred to an independent disputes committee in light of its comments.

“We’re very careful that people behave appropriately and as a result of that, we’ve referred to an independent disputes committee the behaviour and comments of the Scottish Rugby Union,” said tournament director Alan Gilpin.

“I think on that basis it’s probably inappropriate for us to comment any further.”

World Rugby also hit back at criticism for its refusal to reschedule England’s clash with France and New Zealand’s match against Italy, with some suggesting the governing body had been pressurised into the decision by member unions.

“We weren’t influenced by member unions,” said Brett Gosper, CEO of World Cup. “Some of the comments in and around were disappointing.

“We’re not influenced by conversations or comments.

“We made a call on the volume of what was in front of us.”

“We were ready for typhoons – there’s nothing exceptional about typhoons in this country. But this was an exceptional typhoon we haven’t had the likes of since the 50s. So please understand this was an exceptional event that was thrown at this tournament, and the tournament has handled it brilliantly with obviously the issues around a few cancelled games. We knew this was coming but not of that scale.

“So some of the comments were unfounded particularly I’d say.”

Gilpin added: “We were very clear with everyone before the tournament about the detailed contingency plans in place but also tournament rules about how contingency plans could be implemented.

Brett Gosper described the criticism that World Rugby has faced as ‘unfounded’

“While we had appropriate discussions with a number of unions, no decisions were based on pressure from any particular unions.

“And it’s also important to clarify that we did not have those discussions with Ireland.”

Despite the controversy generated over the past week, and having seen the World Cup caught in the centre of an unprecedented typhoon which has so far claimed 70 lives, with 11 more missing, World Rugby said it would have no qualms in bringing the tournament back to Japan.

“No hesitation at all in coming back to Japan for a rugby world cup,” said Sir Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby. “Not at all. The response we’ve had form the country, from the teams, has been exceptional.”

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