Wales rocked as Howley is sent home from World Cup over alleged betting breach

Japan 2019 hasn’t even started yet and we have our first bombshell – the stunning news that Wales attack coach Rob Howley has been sent home for an alleged breach of World Rugby’s laws on betting and anti-corruption.

Howley’s departure comes less than a week before Wales open their campaign against Georgia and deprives the reigning European champions of one of their most senior management figures. Howley has previously taken charge of Wales when head coach Warren Gatland has taken sabbaticals ahead of British & Irish Lions tours.

A Welsh Rugby Union statement said that Howley had “returned to Wales to assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union”.

World Rugby’s regulation 6.3.1 reads: “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.”

Following consultation between Gatland and senior players, it was decided that Stephen Jones, the former Wales fly-half, would fly out immediately to link up with the squad in Kitakyushu. Jones has already been confirmed as backs coach in Wales’ post-Japan 2019 management team headed by Wayne Pivac.

Rob Howley and Stephen Jones at the 2011 Rugby World Cup

In the spotlight: Howley with Stephen Jones – then the Wales fly-half – at RWC 2011 in New Zealand (Getty)

As Six Nations Grand Slam champions, Wales go into the World Cup as one of the favourites. The swift summoning of Jones as his replacement will help minimise the impact of Howley’s predicament, but there’s no doubt it will disrupt Welsh preparations. Wales face Australia, their major pool rivals, a week on Sunday.

Howley’s setback comes right at the end of his tenure because he was already due to leave his role after the tournament and so end an 11-year stint as Gatland’s right-hand man. He has been linked to the Italy head coach job but that prospect now looks unlikely, albeit that no one yet knows how the investigation will unfold.

There was a fierce reaction on Twitter, with former Wales footballer John Hartson one of the few to offer a sympathetic vent (below). Hartson became addicted to gambling, a subject that Rugby World published an investigation into back in 2016 – read it here.

Wales are used to dealing with adversity at World Cups. In 2011 their hopes of reaching the final for the first time were dashed by a controversial early red card for captain Sam Warburton, France squeezing home 9-8 in the semi-final.

And four years ago, Wales were beset by injuries to their back-line yet still knocked out hosts England before falling to a late Springbok try in the quarter-finals.

Gatland said: “You have to deal with adversity at times, and it’s how you respond and react to that. We were shocked. The union are dealing with this, and my focus has to be on the next five days in terms of preparing the squad for the first game against Georgia.

“The players in the last 24 hours have really stepped up and they have been incredibly responsible and resilient, and sometimes that brings teams closer together.

“At the moment, these are allegations. Obviously, Rob was devastated by the allegations. That’s all I can say.”

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