'Mind-boggling' storm forces first match cancellations in Rugby World Cup history

Typhoon Hagibis has forced organisers to cancel two matches at the Rugby World Cup in an unwanted 32-year first for the event.

Matches scheduled for Saturday between England and France, and New Zealand and Italy have been abandoned, with organisers describing their historic decision as "regrettable".

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The category 5 storm that is forecast to strike Japan on Saturday has caused major headaches for organisers, who on Thursday announced the first abandonments in the tournament's 32-year history.

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The pool-deciding England match was scheduled for Yokohama, which is in the direct path of the tropical storm while New Zealand's match was to be in Toyota City, on the fringe.

Map showing the forecast track of a cyclone moving towards Japan. (AFP Photo/Laurence CHU)

The games were scheduled for the same day the category 5 storm is set to make landfall and organisers said in a statement they did not want to risk player, official and spectator safety.

They said the "risks were too challenging" to consider shifting the match venues.

A decision was still to be made on the status of matches on Sunday, including a key clash between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama.

“This is a complex and dynamic situation which we have been monitoring extremely closely with the assistance of our weather information experts,” World Rugby COO and Tournament Director Alan Gilpin said.

"We are now in a position to accurately predict the likely impact of Typhoon Hagibis on Rugby World Cup fixtures this weekend.

“As a result, we have taken the decision to cancel some matches in order to ensure the safety of all involved. It is the right thing to do, and comes with the support of all stakeholders, including the teams.

“We fully appreciate that England, France, New Zealand and Italy fans will be disappointed, but we trust they will appreciate that their safety must come first. They will be entitled to a full refund on their match tickets.”

Alan Gilpin informs the media of the cancellations. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England will progress as pool C winners into the quarter-finals, where they almost certainly would face Australia. Pool runners-up France would then face Wales.

Pool A leaders Japan against third-placed Scotland was shaping as the match of the tournament, with both teams still fighting for a quarter-final spot.

A cancellation would send the hosts through as group winners and shut the Scots out completely, however organisers said they would review that game after Saturday.

LIkewise, Italy could have snared an unlikely quarter-final spot and ousted the All Blacks if they'd won with a bonus point.

England's clash with France will reportedly be cancelled. (Photo by Ashley Western/MB Media/Getty Images)

The Wallabies, who face Georgia 200km southwest of Tokyo in Shizuoka on Friday night, aren’t affected.

Michael Cheika's team are almost certain to finish second in pool D, sending them into a quarter-final against the pool C winners England.

England will be the underdone opponents for next week's quarter-final in Oita. They'll have played only three pool games, all comfortable wins over Tonga, USA and a 14-man Argentina.

Some fans weren’t particularly happy with the cancellations.

Formula One also at risk

Race organisers are likely to act cautiously after tragedy struck the Japanese Grand Prix of 2014, when Marussia driver Jules Bianchi lost control in heavy rain on the fringes of a typhoon, and remained in a coma until his death the following July.

At its current speed and trajectory, Hagibis is likely to bring its worst weather to the Suzuka track, west of Tokyo, on Saturday.

Organisers may choose to postpone Saturday's qualifying session until Sunday, the same day as the race, as happened in both 2004 and 2010 as typhoons threatened.