With the Boks bunkering down in Kobe as typhoon Hagibis looms, the big focus will be on the outcome of Sunday’s battle between Scotland and Japan if it goes ahead, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Over the course of the Boks’ congested pool phase, the coaching team needed to box clever as they looked to manage players’ game time as one clash closely followed another.
All of a sudden, though, the Springboks have had some down time after booking their place in the playoffs with a resounding win over Canada on Tuesday just four days after their battle against Italy.
On Thursday, the Boks woke to blue skies and warm temperatures in Kobe, but quickly learned that ‘super-typhoon’ Hagibis may end up deciding their quarter-final opponents once it makes landfall in Japan on Saturday.
It’s an interesting curve ball that has led to widespread outcry after World Rugby confirmed that two matches would be cancelled, with France – rather than England – sent into South Africa’s half of the draw as runners-up in Pool C.
A decision on whether this weekend’s headline fixture between Scotland and Japan will go ahead is only set to be taken on Sunday morning, once the impact of the typhoon’s landfall has been assessed.
World Rugby said that Hagibis was predicted to be the biggest typhoon of the 2019 season and is ‘highly likely’ to cause considerable disruption in the Tokyo, Yokohama and City of Toyota areas throughout Saturday, including likely public transport shutdowns.
The Springboks were scheduled to travel to Tokyo on Monday – a plan that currently remains unchanged – but the training schedule for Kobe has been amended, with strong winds and rain expected to hit Kobe in the late afternoon on Saturday.
When discussing the Boks’ lengthy turnaround time between their final pool game and their quarter-final on 20 October, Rassie Erasmus explained that the team would analyse both Ireland and Japan as they waited to see who would lie in wait in the last eight.
As it stands, Ireland are still expected to have the opportunity to bank a full haul of log points against Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday, which would then see them move to 16 log points at the top of Pool A (two ahead of Japan).
If the clash between Japan and Scotland is called off, the hosts would potentially move level on log points with Ireland, but progress as pool winners due to the first tiebreaker rule.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 9, 2019
Scotland are desperate for the match to go ahead, as they are targeting a big win over Japan, which could even force the Brave Blossoms out of the tournament if they fail to claim a losing bonus point.
Already, it’s clear that the Scotland camp is looking to apply some pressure on World Rugby to ensure that the game goes ahead one way or another.
‘With potential impact on our last Pool A fixture, Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarter-finals on the pitch, and will be flexible to accommodate this,’ a statement read on Thursday.
Although Japan would go into the match as favourites, one should not underestimate the ability of Scotland to successfully execute an ambush, which would have far-reaching effects for the Boks.
If Scotland somehow managed to progress at the expense of Japan, the Boks would then most likely face Ireland, who could still finish top of Pool A with a good win over Samoa.
All in all, the ominously named typhoon Hagibis looks set to potentially add another unexpected element of drama and controversy to the final stages of the pool phase.
Yet, it’s still quite possible that this is how the quarter-finals will shape up:
QF1: England vs Australia, 19 October
QF2: All Blacks vs Ireland, 19 October
QF3: Wales vs France, 20 October
QF4: Japan vs Springboks, 20 October
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets