The Scottish Rugby Union will hit World Rugby with a multi-million pound claim for damages if Sunday's final World Cup pool-stage game against Japan is cancelled, The Daily Telegraph understands.
Both sides were laying the ground for a bitter legal dispute on Friday night, with World Rugby saying it was "disappointed" Scotland had threatened action if Typhoon Hagibis does cause the cancellation of the winner-takes-all Pool A clash and claiming they had no basis on which to do so.
And, on a dramatic day as the worst typhoon for 61 years closes in on the Japanese mainland:
- Mark Dodson, Scottish Rugby's chief executive, insisted his side would not be "collateral damage" while saying the tournament's integrity was at stake and his side would have been treated differently if they were the All Blacks.
- World Rugby was forced to deny New Zealand had refused to postpone their now cancelled game with Italy to avoid a short turnaround before their quarter-final.
- Conor O'Shea, the Italy coach, warned World Rugby it must not postpone or rearrange Scotland's match with Japan – there will be a stadium inspection at 10pm on Saturday and a decision announced at midnight – after his own side's game was cancelled.
- Jamie Joseph, the Japan head coach, accused Scotland of being "motivated by avoiding embarrassment" and angrily claimed his side had been "undermined" by claims they wanted the game postponed.
- There was controversy over one of the few games that will take place, as Ireland were confronted by a substandard pitch in Fukuoka ahead of their match against Samoa, with players able to pick up huge strips of the newly relaid turf.
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But it is the looming threat of Scotland's legal battle with World Rugby that will cause most consternation, with the SRU enlisting the services of Nick De Marco QC, an eminent sports lawyer who has acted both for and against the Rugby Football Union and for the Welsh Rugby Union.
It is understood Scotland have considered an injunction against World Rugby in the English courts to force it to move or reschedule the game, but with the window for doing so closing fast, it is thought unlikely they would pursue that option.
Instead, it is thought more likely that the SRU would launch a claim for damages if they were eliminated without playing the match, stating that World Rugby's regulations allow it to move or reschedule the fixture under the force majeure clause, which includes a "storm or tempest", but it chose not to do so.
Such a claim, it is understood, would be for a "significant" sum. This figure would not simply be for any loss of prize money for reaching the quarter-finals, but would be damages based on commercial and sponsorship revenue lost over the next four years by not being allowed a chance to make the knockout stages. That figure is likely to be several million pounds.
"We believe World Rugby has a duty to postpone this match or to reschedule it at another venue," De Marco told The Telegraph on Friday. "Fundamentally, this comes down to fairness and to the integrity of the tournament. We are still hopeful the match can go ahead."
Dodson made plain his anger at a process he believes is weighted towards "economic powerhouses" of the game, such as the All Blacks.
"I think when you're asking for someone to reconsider something as big as this – and we are trying to base the argument on the fact that there's the sporting integrity around this – if you're an economic powerhouse of the game, yes, I think it comes with more clout," Dodson said. "And I think most people feel that if it was one of the economic powerhouse of the game, let's just say New Zealand, perhaps more thought would be given to a flexible approach."
He added: "This is a glorious, world-class sporting occasion. We don't want to be the people that taint that. But we also don't want to be the collateral damage of this. This is important to us a nation, and I think the rugby-following public around the globe believe the same way. And I think we're being, if you like, driven down a tramline around scheduling flexibility that doesn't need to be there. And that's why we took the legal route."
World Rugby immediately hit back, however, issuing its own strongly worded statement claiming that, by signing the "terms of participation agreement", the SRU's legal challenge was doomed to fail.
"It is disappointing that the Scottish Rugby Union should make such comments at a time when we are doing everything we can to enable all Sunday's matches to take place as scheduled, and when there is a real and significant threat to public safety owing to what is predicted to be one of the largest and most destructive typhoons to hit Japan since 1958," it read.
Any chance of the match being rescheduled receded when O'Shea – whose side could still have qualified if they had beaten the All Blacks – exclusively told The Telegraph that World Rugby could not do that for Scotland if Italy were treated differently.
"People will say, 'Oh, it's all about the integrity of the tournament that Japan against Scotland has to be played'," O'Shea said. "Well, what about our game? We were still in with a sporting chance. That cannot be denied. England, France, New Zealand – it's OK for them to be considered as certain to go through. Why is it OK for them and not us?"
World Rugby was also forced to deny claims that New Zealand refused to postpone their match against Italy as it would allow them only a six-day turnaround before their last-eight tie, calling them "categorically untrue".
There was further disquiet when Joseph railed against both the Scots and the suggestion his side wanted their game to be cancelled, as it would guarantee the hosts progress from Pool A in top spot.
"I just think the key difference here between us and Scotland is that we're driven and supported by the whole country," Joseph said. "My team is motivated by achieving something great, not avoiding embarrassment."
With England and New Zealand's final pool games formally counted as 0-0 draws, Japan could become one of just two sides, along with Wales, to progress with a perfect record and Joseph was furious at suggestions his side would not want to play the match.
"Just in the past few days through the media reports I've read, I feel they've undermined the achievements of the Japanese national team and the significance of Sunday's Test match against Scotland for Japan," he said.
"Everyone in our sport – the players and staff – want to play the Test match. We've all earned the right to be considered one of the elite teams in the world. It's important for us to wake up on Monday morning and understand we're a worthy top-eight team or we aren't."