England prop Mako Vunipola is praying for his loved ones in Tokyo as Super Typhoon Hagibis batters the Japanese capital.
The nation’s biggest hurricane for 61 years has brought devastation to vast swathes of Honshu after hitting landfall, resulting in evacuation orders, flooding and power blackouts.
England were able to escape Hagibis after their World Cup group game against France in Yokohama was cancelled, allowing them to travel to Miyazaki where they have begun preparations for the quarter-finals.
But many fans are stranded in Tokyo after jetting in to watch the match and Mako and his young brother Billy have a number of relatives who have been toughing out the 122mph winds and relentless rain accompanying the 870-mile-wide cyclone.
“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,” Vunipola said.
“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 had only come over for the France game, but I think he will stay for the Australia game.
“Japan are 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’re talking to them as much as we can. It’s worrying, but we’re lucky because we’re pretty sheltered from a lot of it. I just hope the damage isn’t too much and people are OK.
“Obviously you’re focused on rugby but you know it’s not the be-all and end-all, especially when you see things like this typhoon. You worry for people’s safety.”
Vunipola was poised to make only his second appearance of the World Cup against France after making his second comeback from a hamstring injury a week ago when Argentina were toppled at Tokyo Stadium.
The Saracens prop has been limited to 38 minutes of rugby since May 11 and he admits the cancelled game has been a significant blow.
“I wanted to play as much as I can, to get a bit more game time under my belt,” Vunipola said.
“But you can’t control these things and it’s pretty serious. We as players don’t make those calls, so we’ve just got to deal with it.
To all the England fans in Tokyo…
A message from Ben Youngs. pic.twitter.com/BxBVZgUhld
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 12, 2019
“We had an idea that it might happen but I didn’t really think there was a chance the game would be cancelled. But two days before the game, we got the news.
“We’d had a tough day in training on Wednesday so I was a bit gutted because I’d worked hard.
“You want to play for your country as much as you can, but this has happened and we’re here now.
“Before we came to the World Cup, we spoke about it and said this could be a reality, and now it has happened. It’s just a case of getting ready for it, dealing with it and moving on as soon as possible.”