The Welsh Rugby Union knew a week ago they had a problem with alleged betting from inside the Wales camp.
As the shock waves from the departure of Rob Howley were extending throughout the World Cup which begins on Friday in Japan – his employers have tried to give an explanation of why the events moved from home to the eve of the tournament itself on the other side of the world.
The governing body have revealed they were first made aware of the Wales backs coach’s suspected breach of World Rugby’s betting regulations last Wednesday following contact from one of the gambling industry’s integrity teams.
Head coach Warren Gatland has admitted the bombshell news surrounding Howley and his World Cup departure has caused major consternation through his squad, but insisted they would not allow it to affect them on the field.
The 48-year-old assistant coach left Wales’ World Cup camp on Monday and will be investigated over a suspected breach of World Rugby’s regulation six, which covers anti-corruption and betting.
It emerged on Wednesday morning that the WRU have known of the controversy for a week. The governing body have now placed a detailed support network around a “devastated” Howley following his return to Wales on Tuesday.
Speaking from Wales’ World Cup base in Kitakyushu on Wednesday morning, WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips said: “We were contacted informally on Wednesday of last week to suggest there was a potential breach of regulation six. It came from one of the betting company’s integrity teams.
“We were then contacted formally with further information on Friday evening and at that point we informed World Rugby there was a potential breach and we would be seeking face-to-face time with Rob. We reached the decision on Saturday that we were best-placed to come out to Japan.
“That triggered the formal process we’re now in and it will carry on back in Wales. He’s our employee and we have a duty of care to him. I can assure you that has been a major factor we’ve considered over the last few days.
“Rob is back in Wales and we have put the necessary support around him. We’re checking in on his wellbeing as we formalise our processes to get through the investigation.”
Wales flew to Japan last Wednesday, but the WRU insist they didn’t know of Howley’s alleged breach before the team’s departure which came in the early hours of the morning. Howley was on the plane from Heathrow.
Wales’ entire 31-man World Cup squad learned of Howley’s departure on Tuesday night, but Gatland’s senior leadership group – which includes captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Jonathan Davies, Justin Tipuric, Cory Hill and Dan Biggar – were informed 24 hours earlier before Wales’ official welcome and capping ceremony in Kitakyushu. Howley did not attend that ceremony.
The investigation into Howley will be led by the WRU, but Phillips admitted an independent judicial panel is likely to be involved.
“There will be an investigation and that’s confirmed. I’d be far more interested in quality not speed,” he said. “I wouldn’t put any pressure on anyone to do things quickly. I will be putting pressure on them to do it right.”
Rugby players and staff at all levels are banned from betting on any match and Phillips insisted Wales’ set-up is well aware of the rules. But he said he was not “embarrassed” by Howley’s World Cup departure.
It is understood the mood in the Wales team room was sombre on Wednesday morning. Gatland’s players attempted to lighten the mood with some drills inside their spacious Kitakyushu hotel before undergoing afternoon and evening training sessions.
Gatland – who has worked with Howley in Wales since 2008 – had to deal with the departure of his most trusted lieutenant on his 56th birthday.
The New Zealander said: “I have had better birthdays for sure. 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 World Cup game against Georgia.
“You have to deal with adversity at times and it’s how you respond to that. I must say the players have really stepped up in the last 24 hours. They have been incredibly responsible and resilient. “Sometimes that brings teams closer together.
“We have got to draw a line in the sand on this 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.
“There was concern from the coaches and the players about Rob’s welfare. We have to let the formal process take its course and hopefully that can continue outside our preparation.”
Former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones is on his way to Japan to replace Howley.
Jones was set to succeed Howley as Wales attack coach after the World Cup, but he has been pressed into action sooner than expected and will meet up with Wales in Toyota on Thursday. Wales face Georgia there on Monday.