His ban caused shockwaves, but Rob Howley is now back where he belongs

When Rob Howley was sent home on the eve of the 2019 World Cup with a betting ban it sent SHOCKWAVES through Welsh rugby… now he is back where he belongs

  • Rob Howley was banned from rugby union for betting breaches in 2019
  • His exit from the sport was devastating for Welsh rugby before the World Cup
  • Howley is back in the Wales fold as a technical coach via a stint with Canada 

Almost four years to the day since his 18-month ban for breaching rugby’s betting rules was officially confirmed, Rob Howley sat in a room inside Principality Stadium on Thursday with a huge smile spread across his face. Few could have seen this coming, least of all Howley. 

He admitted as much after returning to head coach Warren Gatland’s Wales set-up at the home of his country’s national game. 

‘This is a special place,’ Howley said. That much is true. But it would have taken a brave man or woman to predict back in 2019 that he and Gatland would reunite with Wales again now. 

On the eve of that year’s World Cup, the revelation Howley was being sent home from the tournament in Japan after being found to have been betting on the game in which he was involved shocked not only the rugby world, but sport as a whole. Wales were in Kitakyushu at the time. 

The Japanese city had welcomed Gatland’s side with open arms and as one of the few reporters on the ground at the time, I will never forget the moment 15,000 locals turned up to watch the team train and sing the Welsh national anthem there. It was extraordinary stuff. 

Rob Howley is back in the Wales frame and has been given a job as a technical coach 

He received an 18-month ban from rugby union just before the 2019 World Cup after placing bets on the sport

A little over 24 hours later, the Welsh camp went from a high to the lowest of lows when the news about Howley began to seep out. As an agency journalist at the time, my laptop soon went into overdrive and my feet didn’t touch the floor for the next week. The Howley story was everywhere. 

Shock was the overriding emotion. Then Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Martyn Phillips and key administrator Julie Paterson flew halfway round the world to deal with the fall-out. 

Phillips cut an understandably weary figure when he faced the media at an emergency press conference alongside an emotional Gatland. Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies, senior playing figures at the time, produced impressive media displays insisting Wales had to move on and quickly. 

That they did to reach the semi-finals in Japan. Howley, meanwhile, travelled home. 

The impact on him was huge. Life-changing, even. Gatland and Howley have always been close friends. Wales’ players were also big fans of him, Biggar and Davies especially. 

Howley was widely respected not only in Wales but across European rugby given he had been on three British & Irish Lions tours with players from England, Ireland and Scotland. 

So, it was no surprise Wales’ squad was gutted to suddenly be without a man who as a decorated former player, captain and coach has given his life to Welsh rugby. 

On December 16, 2019, Howley received the news he was to be banned from working in rugby for 18 months, nine of which were suspended. He admitted guilt to breaching World Rugby rules on betting and anti-corruption. This was, in Howley’s own words, a hugely dark period. 

Howley has worked his way back to Wales via a stint with Canada and is a decorated coach 

In an emotional interview, he revealed how his betting came about as a result of him failing to deal with the death of his sister, Karen Thomas (pictured with their dad)

Later, in an emotional interview with Mail Sport’s Nik Simon, he would reveal how his betting came about as a result of him failing to deal with the death of his sister Karen Thomas. He knew he had made a grave mistake and had to serve his time. 

Howley deserves immense credit for getting not only his rugby career, but his life back on track. His wife Ceri and daughters Megan and Rebecca provided unequivocal and loving support. 

Howley’s wife described the fall-out as like ‘some kind of trauma’. Howley himself couldn’t face leaving his home for a number of weeks. But, slowly, he got back to normality. 

Once his ban was up, he found a job – supported by World Rugby – with Canada where he worked with the country’s national team and also their main domestic side Toronto Arrows. 

In 2021, he faced Wales in Cardiff with Canada. The job, which took place during the years of Covid-19, meant lots of travelling and time away from his family in enforced bubbles. 

You did wonder if that was the best thing for him. But it was his first step on the journey back to where he always wanted to be – with Wales. 

Away from prying eyes, Howley sought help from a professional psychologist. He divulged his feelings and began to understand how they had led to him placing 363 bets on rugby union between 2015 and 2019. It is, as they say, good to talk and Howley reaped the benefits. 

He is a good man who made a serious error and paid the price. But, everyone makes mistakes and it was fantastic to see Howley in such a good place on Thursday afternoon. 

Gatland is ‘delighted’ to have Howley back in the fold after he served his ban from the sport

Welsh rugby will undoubtedly benefit from his return too. 

His knowledge will help Gatland with the senior Wales side at a time when there are serious problems across the country’s rugby landscape. 

Howley will be an assistant to Gatland and also head up Wales’ pathway and junior systems, working closely with Richard Whiffin who has been appointed as Under-20 head coach. 

That was the role Howley went for initially. Funnily enough, Gatland was on the interview panel but it was felt by the WRU they had to appoint both the former scrum-half and Whiffin. 

Gatland wanted Howley back this time last year but the move was blocked by the WRU board who felt it wasn’t the right move at the time. 

Now, they have justly seen fit to welcome Howley back. Thursday’s press conference should really have been held 12 months previously. But that does not matter now. ‘He spelled out in clear terms why what happened, happened,’ interim WRU chief executive Nigel Walker said of Howley. 

‘He sought professional help. He is rehabilitated as far as we are concerned. 

Nigel Walker, interim WRU chief, said Howley wants to use his experiences to ‘ensure no one makes the mistakes he’s made’ 

‘There is a commitment from Rob to use his experiences within Welsh rugby to ensure no-one makes the mistakes he’s made. That’s why we’ve come to the decision now is the right time.’ 

While away from rugby, Howley has enjoyed playing cricket with his local club near his home in Bridgend. 

He is energetic and engaging company, always happy to chat with journalists about rugby and his return has been welcomed in all quarters. 

Howley is now rightly looking forward, the past behind him. Everyone connected to Welsh rugby should be happy he is back and will no doubt send him their best wishes. 

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