By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – As Tokyo braces for the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, Scotland fans are no longer laughing at its revised appellation of “Haggis” as they hope it moves on quickly enough for their crucial World Cup pool game against Japan to go ahead on Sunday.
Two matches that had been scheduled for Saturday have already been cancelled, with the typhoon threatening to unleash record-level rainfall and winds.
If Scotland’s game against Japan in Yokohama goes the same way, the hosts will advance to the quarter-finals for the first time and Scotland will almost certainly be eliminated.
World Rugby has said it had contingency plans in place to get the game played, with the possibility of a change of venue or the match being played without fans the obvious options given that a change of date is seemingly against tournament rules.
“We have got to believe, and have faith in the organisers,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who added that the rules have a ‘force majeure’ clause that gives the tournament some wriggle room.
However, many of his compatriots have taken to social media to voice their concerns that organisers may not be trying that hard to get the game played.
Days ago they happily joined in the re-christening of “Typhoon Haggis” in honour of the country’s traditional dish of sheep’s offal but are now torn between pleading with World Rugby to get the game on and berating them for what some are viewing as a “conspiracy” to help the host nation.
The cancellation of the Italy v New Zealand match cost the Italians a chance to play for a place in the quarter-finals and Scotland fans are concerned the same fate may befall their team.
A column in the country’s Scotsman newspaper labelled the move to cancel, and potentially cancel, games as a “shameful decision that undermines the integrity of the Rugby World Cup”.
Scotland are still stinging from the 2015 tournament when they were denied a place in the semi-finals by an incorrect last-minute penalty that handed Australia victory at Twickenham.
World Rugby’s subsequent apology did little to help overcome the sense of injustice.
And last week there was general incredulity when Samoa were penalised for a crooked scrum feed in the last minute of the match against Japan – the only time a referee has punished the offence in the whole tournament.
Japan were allowed to regain possession and went on to score the fourth try they needed for a bonus point that could prove decisive – at Scotland’s expense – if Sunday’s game goes ahead.
Angry Scots were convinced that the game’s powers were favouring the home nation as they desperately want a tier two team, and particularly this one, in the knockout phase.
Townsend did not go that far but he did say he found the scrum decision incredible.
“I’ve never seen a crooked feed call in a World Cup or Six Nations and to see it in a World Cup really surprised me,” he said.
And it is not just the Scots who raised an eyebrow at the Pool A schedule, which gives Japan a week between each of their matches while everyone else in the tournament has at least one short turnaround.
Meanwhile, fans who bought tickets for the cancelled matches through official channels have already received emails saying refunds will be paid automatically to their account.
Tickets bought from “unauthorised secondary sources” will not be refunded.
In addition to matches being called off, the typhoon’s impact on transportation in Japan has also left fans frustrated.
Some Australian supporters have had to miss their team’s game against Georgia in Shizuoka on Friday because planned train cancellations meant they would not have been able to get back to Tokyo for their flights home.
Other sports are also being disrupted.
Organisers of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix have moved their qualifying session from Saturday to the morning of the race on Sunday amid concerns about the impact of the typhoon.
Five years ago driver Jules Bianchi died after a crash at Suzuka when the track was soaked by Typhoon Phanfone.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Editing by Peter Rutherford)