TOKYO (Reuters) – Tensions have risen ahead of the final Rugby World Cup pool match between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday, with Typhoon Hagibis still threatening to scupper the tie.
The unbeaten tournament hosts lead Pool A on 14 points and are within sight of their first World Cup quarter-final spot, while Scotland are in third on 10 and need to beat Japan to give themselves any chance of advancing to the knockout phase.
Second-placed Ireland are on 11 and play the already eliminated Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday in their final pool game.
The Japan-Scotland match, which is scheduled to kick off at Yokohama Stadium at 7:45 p.m. (1045 GMT) on Sunday, however, could still be abandoned, with Hagibis expected to make landfall on Saturday and bring destructive wind and rain.
Should the Yokohama match be cancelled, Scotland and Japan would receive two points each, meaning Japan and Ireland would finish as the top two in Pool A and reach the quarter-finals, providing the Irish beat Samoa.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who resorted to his first-choice line-up for the game by making 12 changes from the side that beat Russia 61-0 on Wednesday, made no secret of the fact that he thought the game should go ahead, no matter what.
That could mean postponing it until Monday, or even shifting it to another venue, he said, something World Rugby said it was not prepared to do.
The Scottish Rugby Union, however, have gone on the attack against organisers and SRU chief executive Mark Dodson said their side was not going to be “collateral damage for a decision that was taken in haste.”
Scotland have never lost to Japan in seven previous matches, but the gap between the two sides is reducing with their last game producing a 21-16 victory in Tokyo in 2016.
It is that improvement by the Brave Blossoms and their performances at the World Cup that prompted coach Jamie Joseph also to launch a blistering attack about the match.
“The media reports that I’ve read, I feel they undermine the achievements of the Japanese national team,” said Joseph, who restored the inspirational Michael Leitch to the captaincy after trying to take some pressure off him over the last two games.
Joseph said his side also wanted the match to go ahead.
“What is important for us is waking up on Monday morning and understanding we’re a worthy top-eight team or we’re not,” he said.
“My team is motivated by achieving something great, not (by) avoiding embarrassment.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Toyota City; Editing by Christian Radnedge)