England’s final pool match against France at the Rugby World Cup is under threat from the strongest typhoon of the Japanese season, with a sudden wind change meaning it is heading straight for Yokohama this weekend.
Super Typhoon Hagibis has “rapidly intensified” over the last 24 hours, and has changed direction from its initial forecast due to “among the most explosive rapid intensifications of any tropical cyclone on record anywhere on Earth”.
Initially, Ireland’s crucial pool game against Samoa – which they need to win to guarantee a place in the quarter-finals – appeared under threat by the typhoon. But a north-easterly shift in direction now has the worst of the weather on course to hit the main island of Honsho, where this weekend’s final matches are due to take place.
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England are due to take on France at the International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday at 5:15pm Japan Standard Time [9:15am BST], and although updated forecasts predict the worst of the storm to hit Yokohama and Tokyo in the early hours of Sunday morning, the area will still be hit by torrential rain and high winds.
However, Sunday’s final pool game between Japan and Scotland, which kicks off at 7:45pm JST [11:45am BST] is firmly in the crosshairs of Typhoon Hagibis, which is now on course to bring peak winds of 160mph.
According to the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Hagibis went from 60mph winds on Monday morning to a Category 5 super typhoon with winds of 160mph in just 24 hours as it cleared the uninhabited island of Anatahan, around 200 miles north-east of Guam.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency [JMA] added that Hagibis is expected to reach the highest level of “violent” and is on course to “be the strongest to hit Japan this year”.
World Rugby is aware of the violent weather heading to Japan, and is putting in place contingency plans in the event that any match at the World Cup is expected. Under the regulations, games that cannot be played as scheduled are scored as a 0-0 draw, with each team claiming two points, and while that would not affect Pool C with England and France already qualified – guaranteeing England top spot – Pool A could be seriously impacted as Scotland need to beat Japan with a bonus point to have any chance of making the last eight.
However, there is the availability to move games is enough advance warning is given, with teams needing to be informed at least 48 hours before kick-off.
“World Rugby, Japan Rugby 2019 and our weather information experts continue to closely monitor the direction and strength of Typhoon Hagibis (Typhoon 19),” a statement read on Tuesday night. “It remains too early to fully predict the movement and impact of the storm, however the latest modelling by our weather information experts indicates that it is now tracking north and east and will bring strong winds and heavy rain to Tokyo and surrounding areas on 12 October.
“Public and team safety is our number one priority. While we have robust contingency plans in place for pool matches, such plans, if required, will only be actioned if the safety of teams, fans, and workforce can be guaranteed. It would be inappropriate to comment on any contingency plans at this stage.
“We will continue to closely monitor this developing situation in partnership with our weather information experts, local authorities, transport providers and the teams, and will provide a further update tomorrow. Fans are advised to monitor official Rugby World Cup channels for any updates.”
But with the typhoon still five days from landing, England are unconcerned by the threat posed, according to assistant coach Scott Wisemantel.
“Regarding the typhoon we have no control over the weather and we have to prepare for the game and see how it goes,” he said. “Regarding the permutation around the game and shared points we are just concentrating on playing to win.
“I live in a bubble and I don’t know where the game would be played. One thing I have learnt in Japan is that they prepare for the worst and then usually it doesn’t eventuate.”
Sunday’s Formula One Japanese Grand Prix is also under threat from the weather, with Suzuka in the firing line for the storm. In 2014, the track was hit by a heavy storm that caused Jules Bianchi’s accident that would go on to claim his life nine months later.
However, because the Typhoon has an unusually small eye of around five kilometres in diameter which has caused it’s rapid intensification, it is also regular for such storms to quickly reduce in intensity.