Italy coach Conor O’Shea was left lamenting a “horrible” end to their Rugby World Cup campaign after their final pool match against New Zealand was called off yesterday because of Super Typhoon Hagibis.
Scrapping the game could spell the end for players like No. 8 Sergio Parisse and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, and O’Shea said the decision was “really, really hard to take.”
In an unprecedented move at a Rugby World Cup, organizers scrapped tomorrow’s matches between England and France, and New Zealand and Italy, with both fixtures in the predicted path of the powerful typhoon.
While England and France both advance to the quarter-finals regardless, with two points each from a Pool C match now deemed a draw, yesterday’s announcement ended Italy’s slim hopes of reaching the last eight.
They would have had to at least defeat New Zealand, which they have never done, and even that might not have been enough.
However, O’Shea, who accepted that officials had faced a “hard decision,” voiced frustration that Italy would not at least get the chance in Toyota.
“I saw the players’ reaction after training and it was horrible, because these guys have given their lives to Italian rugby and their World Cup has ended on the training pitch, when it should be on the playing field,” O’Shea told reporters at Italy’s hotel. “For the World Cup not to finish in front of the fans on the pitch, in front of the fans watching on TV in Italy, it is a hard day for all of us and difficult to put into words.”
O’Shea was particularly upset that Ghiraldini had now been denied an on-field farewell to a Test career of more than 100 caps before he retires.
“You’re very emotional especially for Leonardo Ghiraldini, who missed his last chance to play in an Italy jersey and to hear that your international career is finished after training is tough to take,” he said. “I feel bad for Sergio and the whole squad.”
“You never know what can happen on the pitch,” he said. “We had the chance to qualify. I’m not saying we would have beaten them [the All Blacks], but you want to finish on the pitch.”
Italy captain Parisse pulled no punches in hiding his disappointment and said that if the All Blacks needed to win to make the quarter-finals, the game would have gone ahead.
“It is difficult to know that we won’t have the chance to play a match against one of the great teams,” Parisse told reporters in Toyota City. “If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been canceled.”
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the cancelation of the world champions’ final group game was a “no-brainer.”
“Everyone knew this was a possibility and we all knew what the process would be if it did occur,” he said. “When you get a typhoon to the level we’re getting, then safety is the paramount thing, so it’s a no-brainer.”
“I just hope people don’t remember the World Cup for this. It’s been a marvelous tournament so far,” he said.
The All Blacks face a quarter-final against the runner-up in Pool A — a three-way battle between Japan, Ireland and Scotland. Ireland’s final pool game against Samoa is expected to go ahead on the southern island of Kyushu tomorrow, while the fate of the crunch match between Japan and Scotland on Sunday has yet to be decided.
Scotland said it expects contingency plans to be put in place to play, even though World Rugby says there are no backup plans if it has to cancel the match.
World Rugby says the game is going ahead in Yokohama as scheduled, but it will be under review until hours before kick-off.
Scotland must beat Japan to reach the quarter-finals. If the game is canceled, Japan, who lead Scotland by four points in Pool A, would advance to their first-ever quarter-final and Scotland would miss out.
“We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby at all levels to work to ensure our fixture against Japan on Sunday can be played as planned. Public safety is the clear priority,” Scottish Rugby said in a statement. “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.”
In Tokyo, England coach Eddie Jones said that the typhoon had given his team a “great opportunity.”
England, unbeaten at this tournament, are to play a quarter-final in Oita on Saturday next week, with their opponents likely to be Jones’ native Australia, who are to play Georgia today, as that game was not predicted to be affected by the weather.
Far from being downcast about a week without a match, Jones told reporters: “We are not concerned at all, we are excited, absolutely excited, a great opportunity.”
“Who would have thought we would have two relatively easy games [against Tonga and the US], one tough game [against Argentina] and then two weeks to prepare for a quarter-final?” he said. “So someone is smiling on us — the typhoon gods, maybe?”
Jones said he expected the injured Billy Vunipola, Joe Marler and Jack Nowell all to be available next weekend.
Additional reporting by AP and Reuters
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