World Rugby has refuted reports that the All Blacks turned down the chance to play their final Rugby World Cup pool match against Italy on Monday.
Yesterday World Rugby announced the cancellation of at least two matches – the All Blacks against Italy and England's game with France. More cancellations may follow due to the threat of Typhoon Hagibis.
Both games were cancelled due to safety concerns, with the sport's governing body claiming there were no other options available.
Reports since emerged suggesting the game between the All Blacks and Italy could have been postponed until Monday. The All Blacks were, supposedly, not willing to compromise their quarter-final, scheduled for Saturday, October 19 – with only five days to prepare.
Quite why they would agree to jeopardise their chances of progression is another matter.
Former English player and Telegraph columnist Brian Moore fuelled the fire after claiming on Twitter the All Blacks insisted on sticking to the usual schedule.
"I'm told New Zealand, and this comes from the people I spoke to, not me, insisted on sticking rigidly to the rules because they didn't want a shorter turnaround before the 1/4 finals. They are perfectly entitled to take this view," said Moore.
But insiders told the Herald today those reports are "categorically untrue" and that Monday was "not on the cards".
World Rugby have to treat all teams and matches fairly. This was central to their plans relating to a dynamic and complex adverse weather situation such as this typhoon.
"We looked at a whole range of prepared contingencies for the weekend's matches," a World Rugby spokesperson said. "However, as outlined yesterday, it was impossible to provide a consistent and fair approach to all teams across the tournament that could guarantee safety, venue integrity or transport networks owing to the sheer scale of a super typhoon with a dimeter of 1,400km. This is a fundamental. It would have been grossly irresponsible to endanger public or tournament safety."
Such a situation would make sense. World Rugby is obligated to apply the same rules to everyone. Having cancelled England's game against France and the All Blacks and Italy, the governing body may now have to do likewise if Japan's final pool game against Scotland can't go ahead.
Italian captain Sergio Parisse earlier hit out at the decision to cancel their match against the All Blacks.
"If New Zealand needed four or five points against us it would not have been cancelled," Parisse said. "It is ridiculous that a decision of this nature has been made because it isn't like the fans arrived yesterday. It is ridiculous that there was no Plan B, because it isn't news that typhoons hit Japan.
"Sure, everyone might think that Italy versus New Zealand being cancelled counts for nothing because we'd have lost anyway, but we deserved to be respected as a team."
Steve Hansen said yesterday he supported World Rugby's decision and that the All Blacks didn't have a choice in the matter. If they did, the All Blacks were happy to play their game against Italy one day earlier than scheduled when conditions to stage the match were fine.
"If we'd had a choice, we would have rather played Friday [instead of Saturday] but it wasn't our choice, it was out of our control," Hansen said. "We have to back World Rugby's decision and if other teams miss out, it's unfortunate, it'll be disappointing.
"If you want to be really ruthless, then it's all about making sure you win the games on the way through because everyone knew this could be a possibility.
"That's pretty hard-nosed, though, because I know if we were in their situation we'd be disappointed not to have the opportunity to get there. So yes, there's a lot of sympathy for them. But the right decisions are being made, because it's all about safety."
Scotland are now threatening legal action if their final pool match against Japan is cancelled and they, therefore, don't get a chance to fight for a place in the quarterfinal.
A cancellation would result in the match being declared a 0-0 draw which would almost certainly eliminate Scotland from the competition.