2019 Rugby World Cup
- When: 20 September to 2 November
- Where: 12 locations across Japan
- Teams: 20
- Number of matches: 48
- UK TV channel: live on ITV
- Features, news and guides
Wales’s Rugby World Cup preparations have been thrown into disarray with the sensational departure of backs coach Rob Howley after allegations he was “embroiled in a betting scandal”.
The 48-year-old, who has been Warren Gatland’s right-hand man during his 11 years in charge of Wales, was sent home from Japan on Monday night.
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Together the pair have masterminded an unprecedented era of Welsh dominance in the professional era, with Wales winning four Six Nations titles, three of which included grand slams.
According to WalesOnline, Howley received his marching orders from World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, after he was “found to have contravened gambling guidelines by placing bets on Welsh matches”.
World Rugby’s regulation 6.3.1 stipulates that: “No connected person shall, directly or indirectly, bet and/or attempt to bet on the outcome or any aspect of any connected event and/or receive and/or attempt to receive part or all of the proceeds of any such bet and/or any other benefit in relation to a bet.”
WalesOnline says that the Welsh squad “has been rocked to its very core” by Howley’s dismissal, just six days before they open their campaign against Georgia on 23 September.
Stephen Jones, who has been hired by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) as part of their new coaching staff to take over next year, has been flown to Japan to replace Howley.
The news has stunned not just Wales but the wider rugby community. During his illustrious playing career with Wales (which included captaining them on 22 occasions) and the British and Irish Lions, the scrum-half was a hugely popular figure with players, journalists and the public.
Supremely talented, he was nonetheless approachable and engaging off the field, and his absence in the coming weeks will leave a large void in the Wales squad.
A statement from the WRU confirmed that Howley had “returned to Wales to assist with an investigation”.
Speaking at a press conference in Japan on Wednesday, Gatland said he was “shocked” when informed of the allegations.
“The Union are dealing with this and my focus has to be on the next few days and preparing the squad,” he continued. Stressing the need not to pre-judge the case, Gatland said: “We can’t say much to jeopardise the investigation. We have to let the formal process take its course. Hopefully that can continue outside our preparation.”
Speaking at the same press conference, fly-half Dan Biggar echoed Gatland’s comment about the “shock” felt by the players on learning of the news, and said it would be a test of character for the squad as to how they reacted.
Biggar said: “It’s not the ideal situation but we’ve rolled our sleeves up and got on with it. We still have to deliver on Monday night [against Georgia].”
Reactions to Rob Howley’s departure
The Times: “For Gatland, he was always the reliable right-hand man. Not now, though. For now he is the flawed assistant. His reputation is in tatters.”
The Daily Telegraph: “Gatland’s preparations for that game on Monday are now in pieces while it represents a potential disaster for Wales.”
Warren Gatland, Wales head coach: “You have to deal with adversity at times. The players in the last 24 hours have really stepped up and been incredibly responsible and resilient. Sometimes that brings teams closer together.”
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips: “I wouldn’t call it embarrassing. The key point is what you do when you have the information. I’m pleased in the way that we’ve reacted and World Rugby reacted.”
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