Super Typhoon Hagibis bears down on Japan. Graphic: AFP

Rugby World Cup organizers took the unprecedented step of canceling games – England v France and New Zealand v Italy – on Thursday as Super Typhoon Hagibis bears down on Japan.

Both games were in the projected path of the storm, which has a “violent” rating – the highest category by Japan’s weather bureau – and is due to hit on Saturday.

Sunday’s four games, including the Pool A showdown between hosts Japan and Scotland in Yokohama, remain under review, tournament director Alan Gilpin said.

“We’ve taken the very difficult decision to cancel certain matches in the affected areas,” Gilpin said. It is the first time in the tournament’s 32-year history that any game has been axed.

“We are continuing to review Sunday’s matches and making every effort to ensure they will be played as scheduled,” Gilpin added.

Seven games were slated for the final weekend of the pool stage, when matches are tightly packed and cannot be rescheduled. Canceled games are recorded as 0-0 draws, with both teams awarded two points.

England and France are already qualified from Pool C, with England top of the group, but Pool A hangs in the balance ahead of Japan’s final game against Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday.

If that game were to be abandoned it would be a disaster for the Scots, who would be eliminated, while Japan would go through to the quarter-finals as shock winners of Pool A with Ireland runners-up.

Australia’s game against Georgia on Friday will go ahead, as will Saturday’s match between Ireland and Samoa, which is in Fukuoka in Japan’s southwest, out of the path of the storm.

Hagibis, packing maximum gusts of up to 270 kilometers, or 168 miles, per hour, is now projected to hit the Tokyo and Yokohama area on Saturday.

“It is currently a large and violent typhoon. As it moves north and approaches Japan, it will be technically downgraded slightly to a ‘very strong’ typhoon,” said a meteorologist at the Japan Meteorological Agency.

“But the fact remains it will remain very strong when it arrives … This is a very large typhoon, which means it may have a significant impact in large areas,” he added.

Formula One organizers also said they were “closely monitoring” the potential impact of Hagibis ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, southwest of Tokyo.

In 2014, Marussia driver Jules Bianchi crashed in bad weather conditions caused by a typhoon and remained in a coma until his death the following July.

Typhoon Faxai, which struck Japan about two weeks before the World Cup, caused widespread disruption, leaving two people dead, cutting power supplies and causing the cancellation of more than 100 flights.

Hagibis is now forecast to clip the southeastern corner of Japan near Tokyo and Yokohama, a similar trajectory to Faxai.

It is expected to weaken considerably as it approaches but Japan is still bracing for torrential rain and fierce winds from what forecasters have warned is one of the most powerful storms to hit the country in recent years.

Organizers have touted “robust” contingency plans for every eventuality after deciding to hold the tournament in Japan, subject to about 20 typhoons per year as well as being one of the most seismically active regions on Earth.

Faxai made landfall in Chiba, east of Tokyo, on September 9, causing pandemonium including a lengthy black-out that affected half-a-million homes.

That storm also had an impact on some teams’ arrivals at the Rugby World Cup. England were stranded for hours at Narita Airport and Australia delayed their arrival from Sydney.


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