For the first time in Rugby World Cup history, matches were cancelled at the tournament in Japan in 2019. Given the tight schedule and the logistics of moving matches to different venues in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, there was no room in the calendar to reschedule fixtures.
Azzurri legend Sergio Parisse was denied an emotional farewell against the All Blacks following the decision to cancel Italy’s final Pool B match, while in the same pool Canada’s game against Namibia was cancelled due to the disruption caused by the typhoon.
In Pool C, the eagerly-awaited next instalment of ‘Le Crunch’, England versus France, never materialised.
While those matches were never to be played, others throughout the course of the sport’s history have survived against all the odds.
We take a look back through time to pick out some prime examples.
Following the cancellation of their match in Kamaishi, @RugbyCanada players headed out to help with recovery efforts, showing the true values of the game.— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 13, 2019
Amazing scenes and brilliant to see from the team. #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/jdXQlyD2ZM
Scotland 0-53 England, Women’s Six Nations – 10 February, 2020, Edinburgh
With winds of up to 80mph brought about by Storm Ciara and 60 flood warnings across the country, Scotland’s home fixture with England in the Women’s Six Nations 2020 was postponed and switched to Edinburgh the following day when conditions were expected to be better.
However, persistent snow fell throughout the rearranged match and despite the freezing conditions, England put in a good performance to win comfortably. The match was also notable for Emily Scarratt’s achievement in becoming England’s record points-scorer.
World Rugby Tbilisi Cup 2015
An intense downpour turned the Vere river that runs through Tbilisi into a sweeping torrent, causing death and destruction. The floodwater was so fierce it burst open enclosures at the city’s zoo, leaving dangerous animals, including lions, bears and a hippopotamus, to run amok. The following Monday was declared a national day of mourning.
Amidst the chaos, a decision was taken to proceed with the second round of the Tbilisi Cup, as the Avchala Stadium was located 15km north of the city centre in an unaffected area. Emerging Ireland beat Uruguay 33-7 before going on to claim the silverware with a 45-12 win over the host nation in the final round of the tournament.
Ireland 20-14 England, Six Nations – 20 October, 2001, Dublin
An outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the UK – a highly contagious disease amongst livestock – forced the postponement of Ireland’s final three Six Nations fixtures of the spring to autumn slots. England had won all four of their matches by an average margin of 29 points up to that point and were playing some of their best-attacking rugby. However, the delay halted their momentum and Ireland did a number on them when the match eventually took place in October.
South Africa 19-15 France, RWC 1995 – 17 June, 1995, Durban
The normally sun-drenched coastal city of Durban was subjected to a deluge on the day of the first semi-final of RWC 1995 between hosts South and France. After consulting the meteorological office, the kick-off was delayed by 90 minutes to give locals a chance to sweep surface water off the pitch.
It still looked more like a swimming pool than a rugby pitch by the time Welsh referee Derek Bevan got proceedings underway, but there was still a fear the game could be abandoned at any point so atrocious were the conditions.
For South Africa, that was unthinkable, especially while the game remained level on tries because, as the side with the worse disciplinary record of the two, they would be eliminated. Thankfully, the full 80 minutes was played, and the South African pack stood tall to help their side to a precious 19-15 victory.
Wales 24-15 England, Five Nations – 20 April, 1995, Cardiff
The postponement of the Wales-England game in February due to bad weather was good news for the young Neath fly-half, Jonathan Davies. Wales had endured an indifferent season before calling up the youngster for his test debut when the match was eventually staged in glorious conditions at Cardiff in late April. Davies played a stormer in dropping a goal and scoring a fine individual try in a 24-15 Welsh victory.
The opening round of matches, Rugby World Cup 1991
Both the women’s and men’s editions of Rugby World Cup were played in the same year for the first and only time in 1991.
The women’s edition was the earliest of the two, coming in April, at a time when you’d have thought the weather would play ball. However, an unseasonably cold snap with temperatures of around five degrees Celsius, and a bitterly cold wind, made for a wretched start to the tournament.
Conditions were particularly bad for the USA v the Netherlands game which resulted in a 7-0 win for the Americans. USA flanker Cathy Seabaugh was so disorientated by the cold that she joined a scrum facing in the wrong direction! Afterwards, the players poured cups of tea over their heads rather than drink them to try and get warm in lieu of properly warm water from the showers.
Fiji v New Zealand, RWC Sevens 2013 men’s semi-final, Moscow
Sparks always fly when the Fiji and New Zealand men’s sevens team meet, such is their pedigree in the game. But the electrical storms which coincided with the knockout stages of RWC Sevens 2013 took everyone by surprise.
The lightning was at its worst in the semi-finals and was so severe that the Fiji and New Zealand players had to leave the field with the All Blacks Sevens leading 17-0. When play eventually resumed, neither side managed to produce enough cohesive play to create a scoring opportunity. New Zealand went through to the final where they defeated England equally emphatically, 33-0.
Ireland 18-9 England, Five Nations – 10 February, 1973, Dublin
With ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland at their very worst, Scotland and Wales decided not to fulfil their fixtures away to Ireland on safety grounds. Almost totally reliant on income from international matches, the Irish Rugby Football Union faced imminent bankruptcy and the Five Nations competition itself hung in the balance.
After lengthy deliberation, England opted to travel and promptly received a standing ovation when they ran out onto the pitch, a reaction that belied the political sensitivities of the time. Ireland marked the occasion with a win but the fact the game took place – and prompted one of the most quotes in rugby – is the real story. At the post-match function, England hooker and captain, John Pullin, said: “We may not be much good, but at least we turn up.”
Japan 28-21 Scotland, RWC 2019 – 13 October, 2019, Yokohama
People talk about the miracle of Brighton at Rugby World Cup 2015, but Japanese rugby didn’t have to wait long for another one to occur – at last year’s home tournament.
With Typhoon Hagibis causing destruction across the country it was feared that key pool matches would fall victim to the weather and throw qualification for the knockout stages into the lap of the gods. Most crucial was Japan’s game against Scotland, one which would decide the runner-up of Pool A.
Scenes of players wading through knee-high water in the tunnel to get to training the day before the game did nothing to allay fears the fixture might be postponed, but a Herculean effort from the ground staff ensured the game went ahead. It was no damp squib of a match either, the Brave Blossoms turning on the style to win 28-21 and make the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time in history.
England 3-0 Ireland – 29 March, 1952, Twickenham
The death of His Majesty King George VI caused the February postponement of the England-Ireland fixture at Twickenham.
The rearranged game took place – just – in late March when an unseasonal snowstorm restricted travel; the attendance was barely 25,000 and playing conditions were appalling. Ground staff had to clear the ground of snow on the morning of the match, but the game went ahead, England winning an understandably scrappy game with a solitary penalty from Oxford Blue, Brian Boobbyer.