Wales' head coach Warren Gatland attends a training session in Kitakyushu Stadium in Kitakyushu on September 18, 2019, ahead of the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup. Picture: AFP/GABRIEL BOUYS
Wales' head coach Warren Gatland attends a training session in Kitakyushu Stadium in Kitakyushu on September 18, 2019, ahead of the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup. Picture: AFP/GABRIEL BOUYS

Tokyo — The departure of Wales assistant coach Rob Howley from the Rugby World Cup over a possible breach of rules governing gambling in the sport could ultimately bring the team closer together, head coach Warren Gatland says.

Gatland told a news conference in Fukuoka that he is shocked at the exit of his right-hand man that was announced by the Wales Rugby Union late on Tuesday.

CEO Martyn Phillips told reporters the union had received a tip-off from the integrity unit of an online betting company last Wednesday and more detailed information on Friday before informing World Rugby.

The former Wales skipper departed on Monday a few hours after the squad arrived in Japan and faces a formal probe into the allegation that he breached the regulation that forbids those involved in the game from gambling on matches.

“We got a shock the other day. It took us a bit of time for it to sink in,” Gatland said. “You have to deal with adversity at times. You lose key players at times and have to respond to that. The players in the last 24 hours have stepped up and been incredibly responsible and resilient. Sometimes that brings teams closer together.”

Former Wales flyhalf Stephen Jones will step into the role of attack coach and is expected to arrive in Japan on Thursday, well in time for the start of the pool D campaign against Georgia in Toyota on Monday.

“We have had some challenges, but having had a chat to Stephen, he knows what we do,” Gatland said. “I’m sure the coaches and players will give him as much support as possible and I think he’ll come in and potentially add to the environment.

“It’s about turning a difficult situation into a positive.”

Six Nations champions Wales arrived in Japan as one of the pre-tournament favourites after recently topping the world rankings for the first time. Howley, 48, has been attack coach since Gatland took the reins in 2008 and was placed in the top job in a caretaker role when the New Zealander led the British and Irish Lions on their 2017 tour.

Like Gatland, he was set to leave his post after the World Cup and had been linked to the top job with the Italy team. He could face a punishment as severe as a lifetime ban from rugby if the allegations prove founded.

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

World Rugby earlier released a statement supporting the Wales Rugby Union’s proactivity on the matter and Phillips said the body has confidence in the processes put in place to prevent gambling by players and coaches.

“We do respond well to difficult situations,” said Gatland, adding that it is a “Welsh trait”. “We know there will be speculation and criticism in the next 24 hours. We have to deal with that and stay focused. Hopefully rugby is what does the talking.” 

Reuters