Wales’ Rugby World Cup squad have pulled together after the shock of backs coach Rob Howley being sent home from Japan over an alleged breach of betting regulations.
On Tuesday, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) confirmed Howley had returned to Wales six days before the team’s opening World Cup match against Georgia in order to “assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union”.
Head coach Warren Gatland was forced to absorb a potentially damaging blow to his squad on his 56th birthday – something he made light of a Wednesday news conference where he praised the players’ togetherness and discussed former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones coming in as Howley’s replacement.
“I’ve had better birthdays, for sure,” Gatland told a news conference at Wales’ Kitakyushu base.
“We were shocked with it but, as I said, the union are dealing with this and my focus now has to be on the next five days, in terms of preparing the squad for their first game against Georgia.
“I spoke to Stephen Jones the other night about his availability to come in. He was willing to help and do that. The exciting thing about that is he’s been in this environment in the past.
“He’ll bring his own personality to the squad and have the opportunity to give his own ideas and input.
“For us [we have to] make it as seamless as we possibly can. You have to deal with adversity at times. I must say that the players in the past 24 hours have really stepped up.
“They’ve been incredibly responsible and resilient and sometimes that brings teams closer together. We’ve got to draw a line in the sand and really focus on preparing the team for the next five days.
“We got a shock the other day and it took a bit of time for this to sink in.”
— Welsh Rugby Union (@WelshRugbyUnion) September 16, 2019
Dan Biggar could feel the effects of Howley’s departure more than most, as he heads into the tournament as Wales’ first choice at number 10.
“They [the players] were disappointed,” Biggar said. “Especially for people like myself and Jon [centre Jonathan Davies], who have only ever had Rob as coach in the set-up and he has given us every single cap we’ve had.
“It’s a huge disappointment, really, and shock, I suppose, but we are also adults and realise if things like this happen then we have just got to get on with it.
“That’s what has been great about this squad over the last year or two. Whatever has come our way – we had a couple of distractions in the last Six Nations and we went on to win our final two games and the Grand Slam – we are strong.”
Davies has plenty of experience working alongside Jones for Scarlets and believes he will have a positive impact upon the group.
“As well what he carried over to the coaching side, [what stood out] with Steve was the energy he always had as a player,” Davies said. “On the training field he always had that bounce about him.
“He always demands high standards and tactically he wants the boys to play what’s in front of them and make sure we make the right decisions.
“There will be a lot of excitement and Steve will give it his best shot, I can guarantee that.”
After facing Georgia on September 23, Wales take on Australia, Fiji and Uruguay in Pool D.
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