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On Thursday, it was a rugby story. 48 hours later, it was a humanitarian story, and not one with a good ending.
Safe in the sunny confines of Miyazaki, Mako Vunipola detailed the pain and panic of leaving his family behind in Tokyo, just as Typhoon Hagibis made landfall.
“We have families and friends there,” the England forward said, just hour before he should have been preparing for the cancelled Rugby World Cup match against France. “That was probably the hardest thing to deal with; realising that the game wouldn’t be on and trying to make plans for them.”
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What was outrage at World Rugby’s failure to make sure pool matches went ahead and frustration at not being able to play games that had been a week in the making transformed into concern on Saturday, when the brutal Hagibis hit Japan like nothing seen in decades.
Hagibis was forecast to be the worst tropical cyclone in Japan in 61 years, and as the eye of the storm passed over Tokyo like a strange yet premature release, two men had already been killed with three more missing. Suddenly, rugby wasn’t the topic anymore.
For Vunipola, whose family had only just arrived in Japan, the reassurance came in that the fatalities were extraordinarily low for a storm of this ferocity.
“Japan are pretty used to typhoons and they have regulations to deal with it, so it’s just a case of my family 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,” Vunipola added.
“My partner came over but went back before the game. My dad has just arrived and my aunties and cousins also came. My auntie has been here for the whole time. My dad only came over for the France game, but I think he will stay for the quarter-final.
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