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Welsh plans rocked as coach is sent home amid betting probe

 

Gambling query: Rob Howley is under investigation
Gambling query: Rob Howley is under investigation

By Alex Bywater

Rob Howley's coaching career is in tatters and Wales' World Cup bid has been thrown into disarray after Warren Gatland's assistant was sent home from Japan for alleged betting infringements.

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Former Wales captain and scrum-half Howley left Wales' training camp on Monday and will be investigated over a possible breach of World Rugby's regulation six, which covers anti-corruption and betting.

The shock news comes just days before Wales face Georgia in Toyota in their World Cup opener. Gatland's preparations for that game on Monday are now in pieces.

It represents a disaster of epic proportions for Wales, who had been among the favourites to seal global glory in the Far East. A disgraced Howley landed back in the UK yesterday afternoon.

A Welsh Rugby Union statement read: "The WRU can confirm that Rob Howley has returned to Wales to assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union.

"The decision was taken to act immediately in light of recent information passed to the WRU.

"No further details can be provided at this stage as this would prejudice the investigation. If required an independent panel will be appointed to hear the case.

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"Rob has co-operated fully with our initial discussions and we would ask that the media appreciate this is a difficult and personal matter for Rob and that his privacy is respected before an outcome is reached.

"Warren Gatland has consulted with senior players and Stephen Jones will be arriving in Japan imminently to link up with the squad as attack coach.​​"

It is understood Howley has contravened regulation six by placing bets on rugby union.

Players at all levels, as well as agents, match officials, disciplinary personnel, coaching and backroom staff, owners and directors involved at the highest level, are banned from betting on any rugby match.

World Rugby's regulation 6.3.1 states: "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."

At this stage it remains unclear what punishment Howley will receive, but his upcoming investigation means he has been provisionally suspended from all rugby matters and the World Cup as a result.

The worst possible penalty for the most serious betting breach is a life suspension from rugby.

Howley has worked alongside Wales head coach Gatland since January 2008.

The 48-year-old was always going to leave his role in the Welsh set-up after the World Cup and he had been linked with a role with the Italian international side. Now it looks unlikely he will ever coach in Test rugby again and he has ended his Wales career in disgrace.

Howley won 59 caps for Wales and skippered his country on 22 occasions in a glittering career which saw him play for Bridgend, Cardiff and Wasps.

As a coach, he was assistant with the British & Irish Lions on three straight tours in 2009, 2013 and 2017. He has coached Wales on an interim basis on 20 occasions and led the team to the 2013 Six Nations title.

Howley attended Wales' open training session in the Japanese city of Kitakyushu - where 15,000 locals turned out to watch - on Monday afternoon.

But he was not present at the team's official welcome and capping ceremony later that evening as the WRU moved quickly to remove him from the camp.

Gatland and WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips will front a press conference today to provide more detail on Howley's departure.

First-choice starters Ken Owens and Jonathan Davies are also in the frame to appear in front of the media to represent Gatland's 31-man playing party.

Former Wales and Scarlets outside-half Jones - who was set to succeed Howley as Wales attack coach after the World Cup under incoming boss Wayne Pivac - is on his way to Japan to take over in an emergency role with the full support of Gatland's senior players.

He will arrive to chaos in the Wales camp, with Howley's investigation set to have wide reaching implications for the WRU both on and off the field.

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