World Rugby was this morning faced with a huge decision that could affect the integrity of the World Cup in Japan.
The global game’s governing body were due to stage a press conference at 4am (BST) in which they plan to announce whether England’s World Cup clash with France will be moved or cancelled.
Super Typhoon Hagibis is due to sweep through Tokyo this weekend, affecting the Pool C decider at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday and also Scotland’s pivotal group showdown against Japan 24 hours later.
The options available to World Rugby are to either cancel the all-Six Nations fixture or move it to move it nearly 1,000km away to Oita, where the quarter-finals are being staged.
With Hagibis due to have moved on by the end of the weekend, Scotland could see their clash with Japan delayed by 24 hours but played at the same venue.
If, as expected, the England game is cancelled or switched to Oita then it would be the first time a World Cup match has been affected in this way in nine tournaments and it would cause chaos for travelling fans.
One thing we really pride ourselves on is being adaptable and flexible for anything that may throw us off.England defence coach John Mitchell
It is understood that World Rugby is insured against the lost revenue from two cancelled games.
The governing body has refused to outline its plans before the press conference amid conflicting reports over what has been decided. Any games cancelled due to weather problems are registered as scoreless draws and would have no impact on the final standings as England and France have already qualified for the quarter-finals.
However, the integrity of the tournament would be brought into dispute as the northern hemisphere heavyweights are battling for top spot and entrance into one half of the knockout phase.
But the stakes are far higher for Scotland as, were their clash with Japan to be abandoned without a ball being kicked, they would be eliminated from the World Cup.
The storm which was on Wednesday described by the Japanese Meteorological Agency as “violent” has escalated into a Category 5 super typhoon with winds reaching 180mph in one of the most dramatic intensifications of any tropical cyclone since records began.
It is many times the dimensions of Typhoon Faxai, which brought Tokyo to a standstill for the day of England’s arrival for the World Cup, delaying their exit from Narita Airport by six hours, killing three people and leaving a million homes without power.
Satellite images of the extreme weather event reveal that it is the size of Japan and shows no sign of either deviating from its path or decreasing in magnitude.
Ireland’s Pool A game against Samoa on Saturday and Wales’ Pool D clash with Uruguay on Sunday are on the other side of Japan – in Fukuoka and Kumamoto, respectively – so most likely out of the storm’s main path.
The Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, however, could be affected.
Formula One’s ruling body the FIA is monitoring the situation.
What strength the wind speeds will be once it makes landfall this weekend and the impact of any flooding or tidal surge remains to be seen.
A Met Office spokesperson confirmed: “The overall story remains the same. Typhoon Hagibis in the western North Pacific is on track towards Japan this weekend.
“As of Wednesday morning, it was located around 900 miles south of Tokyo with estimated wind speeds of around 120mph and gusts of 170mph. Obviously as Hagibis moves towards Japan it is going to weaken and those wind speeds will fall.
“We are expecting that Hagibis is likely to make landfall on Saturday, not too far from Tokyo.
“By that stage it will have weakened significantly, but with sustained wind strengths still of around 90mph and with gusts of up to 135mph.
“Along with the strong winds, we are expecting very heavy rain along its path. Obviously with those very strong and severe winds, with heavy rain, there is likelihood of significant impact from the damaging winds and also from storm surge.
“With the winds and large waves, there is the risk of flash flooding as well in the Tokyo region. While the location and extent of impact are still rather uncertain, there is an increasing likelihood Hagibis will affect southern Japan.”
England have been in contact with the game’s global governing body but it is refusing to comment on its plans. As typhoons change direction and lose strength, it may be leaving it as late as possible to make a decision that would cause chaos with the potential venues for England’s game with France – Yokohama and Oita – 936km apart.
England defence coach John Mitchell said: “One thing we really pride ourselves on is being adaptable and flexible for anything that may throw us off.”
On the same day that World Rugby was assessing its options, the Tokyo district where England are based was shaken by two earthquakes in 12 hours.