TOKYO — A third Rugby World Cup game in Japan was canceled before organizers decided it safe enough for the tournament host to play Scotland at Yokohama on Sunday, a night after a devastating typhoon left at least four people dead and 17 missing.
Helicopters plucked people from flooded homes as rescue efforts went into full force Sunday morning in wide areas of Japan , including Tokyo, after Typhoon Hagibis unleashed heavy rainfall and damaging winds on the main island.
Rugby World Cup organizers made the decision at 6 a.m. local time to cancel the last Pool B game between Canada and Namibia, which was set to be played at Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium. An evacuation order remained in place in the area and there had been landslides and flooding near the stadium in northeastern Japan.
World Rugby an hour later confirmed the U.S.-Tonga game at Hanazono Stadium in Osaka and the Wales-Uruguay game at Kumamoto had been given the all clear, but took several more hours to make the decision on the crucial Pool A game between Japan and Scotland.
The last of the 40 group-stage matches, it is also a quarterfinal decider. Scotland needs a win to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages, and had threatened to sue organizers if the game was canceled. Japan needed only to avoid defeat to secure a spot in the knockout stages for the first time.
Two of Saturday’s three scheduled games were canceled two days before the destructive typhoon made landfall south of Tokyo and moved northward. More than 100 people were also injured in its wake, according to public broadcaster NHK, as the numbers kept growing.
Among the reported deaths were those whose homes were buried in landslides. Other fatalities included people who got swept away by raging rivers. Some 286,000 homes were without electricity. Flights and trains were canceled on Saturday, but several train services in the Tokyo area resumed early morning and others were undergoing safety checks before reopening.
Japan’s unbeaten run through the pool stage, including a comeback win over an Irish team that was ranked No. 1 ahead of the tournament, has captured the country’s imagination. Head coach Jamie Joseph said his team wanted the game to go ahead just as much as Scotland did, so it could prove it belonged among the eight best teams in the sport.
While the New Zealand-Italy and England-France games were canceled without much backlash, Scottish rugby officials exerted more pressure on organizers after expressing frustration that there hadn’t been enough contingency built into the schedule to cater for the potentially extreme conditions in the first Rugby World Cup staged in Asia.
World Rugby issued a statement saying the comprehensive assessment of the venue and infrastructure was done in partnership with government agencies.
So the only game canceled Sunday was in Kamaishi, making it three for the weekend. It’s the first time any games have been cancelled at a Rugby World Cup.
“Following extensive discussions with World Rugby, Kamaishi City and Iwate Prefecture, during which we considered every possibility to make this game happen, we had no option but to cancel the match to ensure the safety of the fans, team, volunteers, and all others involved,” organizing committee chief executive Akira Shimazu said. “It was both a difficult and emotional decision to make, however, I feel it’s the right decision and firmly believe both domestic and foreign fans will understand the decision was made to ensure safety.”
Like the two games canceled Saturday, the Canada-Namibia result was logged as 0-0 and each team was given two competition points each. Canada and Namibia were both winless, so the outcome had no impact on the quarterfinals.
“Kamaishi is situated in a highly mountainous area, including mountains directly behind the main stand of the stadium,” World Rugby said. “There have been landslides and flooding in the vicinity of the stadium and along access roads to the venue following torrential rain throughout the night.”
The Kamaishi stadium in northeastern Japan was built on the site where two schools sat before they were washed away on March 11, 2011, when the town was devastated by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that killed just over 1,000 local people. Uruguay had an upset win over Fiji at the stadium earlier in the tournament, when the tragedy of nine years ago was memorialized by the presence of Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino and his wife, Crown Princess Kiko, among the sold-out crowd of 14,000.
“Our hearts go out to the teams and also their fans, but also the people of Kamaishi, who have been incredible during what has been a special journey in recent years,” World Rugby tournament director Alan Gilpin said. “Nobody will be more disappointed than them, but also nobody would have better empathy with the decision.”