England’s players were left “hoping and praying” for their families and friends after the emergency lockdown in Tokyo as Super Typhoon Hagibis beat a destructive path across Japan’s capital. The squad have decamped 700 miles south to Miyazaki and out of harm’s way from what was forecast to be the most violent typhoon since 1958.
On Thursday, Eddie Jones and the England logistics team took advantage of the cancellation of their match against France – that was supposed to be played in nearby Yokohama on Saturday – by flying here, where they were based for eight days before the start of the tournament, just hours after learning the Pool C decider had been called off.
That left a number of the squad saying hurried goodbyes to their loved ones, who had travelled to Tokyo in advance of the France fixture. Vunipola, who was denied the chance to make what would have been a welcome first start of the World Cup, also revealed his father and former Tonga international, Fe’ao, was among his family members stranded in the capital.
Winds of more than 120mph hit the Kanto region and torrential rain left 12,000 homes without power. By mid-afternoon there were reports of a first fatality and Tokyo was hit by an earthquake at around 6pm local time. The extreme weather was expected to settle overnight.
“It’s been chaos, in terms of logistics,” said Vunipola. “We have families and friends there. That was probably the hardest thing to deal with; realising that the game wouldn’t be on and trying to make plans for them.
“Japan is pretty used to typhoons and they have regulations to deal with it, so it’s just a case of them doing as they’re told and us hoping and praying that they’re safe. We are very lucky to be here and I just hope everyone is safe.
“My dad has just arrived and my aunties and cousins also came. My auntie has been here for the whole time and my dad has come over for the [France] game and I think he will stay for the Australia game. It is just trying to make sure they are safe and follow what they are told.
“You’re focused on rugby but you know it’s not the be all and end all. You worry for people’s safety in typhoons and you hope nothing serious does happen. But unfortunately there’s already been someone [die]. You just pray and hope that it doesn’t happen too much.
“In terms of rugby you want to focus on that as much as you can but you realise it’s all about safety, which is probably why they’ve made that call and we’re not playing.”
England were not told the match was officially off until Thursday morning but the hooker Jamie George revealed Jones, who earlier this week retold how he was once nearly seriously hurt during a typhoon, had prepared his players for the disruption caused. Jones coached Japan for four years and has spent many more coaching at club level here.
“It’s one of the many benefits of having Eddie as our coach,” said George. “He told us that there was the potential for this to happen. It came to us as a massive shock to the system, but the most impressive thing for me was how our logistics team handled it all, within a few hours we already had a plan in place.
“I know people who have flown here just for the weekend. We’re gutted for those guys. Trust me, we’d much rather be playing as well but as difficult as it is it’s very difficult circumstances. But it’s hugely disappointing for those guys.”