Rugby World Cup organisers have been forced to scrap two big pool games on safety grounds as Japan braces for the impact of super typhoon Hagibis.
Matches scheduled for Saturday between England and France, and New Zealand and Italy have been abandoned, with organisers describing their historic decision as “regrettable”.
They are the first cancellations in the tournament’s 32-year history.
The pool-deciding England match was scheduled for Yokohama, which is in the direct path of the tropical storm while New Zealand’s match was to be in Toyota City, on the fringe.
The games were scheduled for the same day the category 5 storm is set to make landfall and organisers said in a statement they did not want to risk player, official and spectator safety.
They said the “risks were too challenging” to consider shifting the match venues.
A decision was still to be made on the status of matches on Sunday, including a key clash between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama.
Organisers said Hagibis was forecast to be the biggest typhoon of the 2019 season and is highly likely to cause considerable disruption in the Tokyo, Yokohama and Toyota City areas throughout Saturday, including likely public transport shutdown.
The statement said the impacted teams had been informed and were understanding.
“It is an exceptional, complex and rapidly evolving situation and team and public safety is the number one priority,” the World Rugby statement said.
While we have extensively explored all options, public and team safety was our utmost priority as well as ensuring a consistent, fair and equitable outcome for all teams.”
All fans with tickets for a cancelled match will receive a full refund, World Rugby said.
A decision on Sunday’s matches will be made after an assessment of venues, every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled.
A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made on Sunday morning.
Based on the advice of government authorities and experts, World Rugby and the Japan Rugby Organising Committee are advising fans in the Tokyo, Yokohama and Toyota City areas to stay indoors on Saturday.
Fans are urged not to travel and to keep monitoring the official Rugby World Cup 2019 digital and social channels, including the RWC 2019 Fan Information Twitter handle @Japan2019_ENG for regular updates.
World Rugby Chief Operating Officer and Tournament Director Alan Gilpin said when addressing the media: “This is a complex and dynamic situation which we have been monitoring extremely closely with the assistance of our weather information experts.
“We are now in a position to accurately predict the likely impact of Typhoon Hagibis on Rugby World Cup fixtures this weekend.
“While making every possible effort to put in place a contingency plan that would enable all of Saturday’s matches to be played, it would be grossly irresponsible to leave teams, fans, volunteers and other tournament personnel exposed during what is predicted to be a severe typhoon.
The typhoon, labelled “violent” by the Japan Meteorological Agency is set to have a big impact on the World Cup’s quarter-final permutations, with the cancelled games to be registered as scoreless draws.
England will progress as pool C winners into the quarter-finals, where they will almost certainly face Australia. Pool runners-up France would then face Wales.
Italy could have snared an unlikely quarter-final spot and ousted the All Blacks if they’d won with a bonus point but they could be denied that chance.
The Wallabies, who face Georgia 200km southwest of Tokyo in Shizuoka on Friday night, are unaffected.