The All Blacks have officially qualified for the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup following the cancellation today of their final pool match against Italy in Toyota City on Saturday, a move prompted by the danger of the approaching Typhoon Hagibis, a violent weather condition which could turn this tournament upside down.

With the match declared a 0-0 draw, Steve Hansen's men take two points and will finish on top of Pool B ahead of South Africa. The England v France match in Yokohama on Saturday has also been cancelled, but, like the All Blacks, both nations qualify regardless, with England topping Pool C above France. Tickets will be refunded, according to the organisers.

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At this stage all other matches will proceed as normal, including Ireland v Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday and Japan v Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday, which means the All Blacks' quarter-final opponents are yet to be established.

The highly-anticipated fixture involving the unbeaten hosts is crucial for the knockout phase ambitions of Scotland, in particular, because if that game is also cancelled the Scots are going home.


The All Blacks needed only a losing bonus point to qualify but will be adversely affected, as will the tournament, because the step-up in difficulty against the Italians, poorly-performing members of the Six Nations but members nevertheless, will have been factored into their quarter-final preparations.

The All Blacks at training last week. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks at training last week. Photo / Getty Images

They must now swiftly change their conditioning plans as well as their accommodation requirements, because they were due to travel to Nagoya, 300km south of Tokyo, on Friday and return on Sunday. They will now remain in Tokyo and presumably thrash themselves on the training pitch on Saturday.

According to the Japan Times, the approaching typhoon, due to hit the eastern side of the country on Saturday night, has been gathering strength in the Pacific and has been rated as equivalent in force to a Category 5 hurricane.

The newspaper quoted meteorologist Robert Speta, a typhoon expert who works for the US Navy in Florida, as saying the storm had gone through an "explosive intensification." Torrential rain and winds of well over 140km/hr are expected.

"The storm went from a tropical storm to a violent typhoon in the matter of hours. In fact it was an historic amount of intensification in such a short time," Speta said. "This only happens when all the right ingredients are in place. Like if you had a fire and instead of throwing gasoline on it to make it bigger you also grabbed some lighter fluid, a bit of oil and a couple of aerosol cans for good measure."

The two games are the first to be called off in Rugby World Cup history, although there was a precedent of sorts in 2011 when the World Cup games in Christchurch were scheduled elsewhere following the devastating earthquakes at the start of that year.

Should the All Blacks, England or France win the final in Yokohama on November 2 their victory may be forever tainted by their playing only six matches rather than seven.

The cancellations are also likely to bring distress to the tournament hosts and their supporters who have been unfailingly gracious and polite so far. But with rail services and other public services shutting down in the event of a typhoon, which are common here at this time of year, the organisers had little option.


They can only hope there won't be further cancellations and that this tournament will be remembered for the wrong reasons.