Wales manager Gatland expresses disappointment after Howley was blocked by Welsh Rugby Union

‘I have a lot of love and respect for him’: Head coach Warren Gatland expresses disappointment after Welsh Rugby Union’s block change saw former assistant Rob Howley back in the Welsh line-up

  • Rob Howley has been banned from rugby for 18 months for violating the betting rules
  • Warren Gatland objected to the idea that Howley would be difficult to reappoint
  • Wales head coach Gatland wanted the former scrum-half as his attacking lieutenant

Netflix cameras rolled behind the scenes at the Vale of Glamorgan training base in Wales for their Six Nations series on Tuesday and they were focused on just one man. Warren Gatland didn’t disappoint those behind the lens.

The New Zealander’s words were spoken softly, but each one carried weight. Gatland reserved his strongest thoughts for that when the subject turned to Rob Howley, his old friend whom he wanted to call back into the Wales line-up.

Such a move was blocked by Welsh Rugby Union. Howley was banned for 18 months for breaching the betting rules when he was attacking coach of Wales in 2019 and there felt the former scrum half was difficult to bring back. Gatland clearly disagreed.

Warren Gatland was looking to bring former assistant Rob Howley back into the Wales line-up

Warren Gatland was looking to bring former assistant Rob Howley back into the Wales line-up

WALES SQUAD

Forward: Carre, W Jones, Thomas, Lake, Owens (Captain), Roberts, Brown, Francis, Lewis, Beard, Davies, Jenkins, AW Jones, Teddy Williams, Faletau, Morgan, Reffell, Tipuric, Tshiunza, Wainwright.

The back: Hardy, Webb, Tomos Williams, Biggar, Patchell, Owen Williams, Grady, Hawkins, North, Tompkins, Keiran Williams, Adams, Cuthbert, Dyer, Halfpenny, Rees-Zammit, Liam Williams.

“One would think that if anyone were to forgive, it would be the Welsh who forgive their own,” he said. “It’s been over three years now, but that’s not the case at the moment.”

“A lot of the stuff about Rob is pretty well documented.

“I’m sure I’ll be working with him again if the opportunity arises in the future.

“I would have liked to have had Rob. I have a lot of love and respect for him and have worked closely with him. The information I was given was that the timing wasn’t right.

“I would love to see him back at the highest possible level in the future.

“When Gatland’s hopes of reuniting with Howley were rejected by his employers, he turned to his former Wasps fly-half, Alex King, as attacking coach for the Six Nations, which begin next month.

‘Gatland succeeded the sacked Wayne Pivac to seal a dramatic Welsh return in December.

On Tuesday, he named veteran hooker Ken Owens his captain for the Six Nations, along with four uncapped rookies in Mason Grady, Keiran and Teddy Williams and Rhys Davies.

Gatland also revealed he was considering ripping out the experienced core of his squad, but with the World Cup later that year he felt they needed to be retained. The core group of players Gatland had in his first term remain vital despite their advanced age and another veteran at Rhys Webb has been recalled.

“The thought process is that it (moving older players) was something that needed to be done earlier,” Gatland said, in a sly exchange with his predecessor Pivac.

“I think we’re running out of time.”

The Wales head coach wanted former scrum half Howley to be his side's attacking lieutenant

The Wales head coach wanted former scrum half Howley to be his side’s attacking lieutenant

Gatland certainly cannot afford to waste a minute. His side open the Six Nations against Ireland in Cardiff on February 4 and there is hope he can immediately revive the Welsh fortune after a disastrous 2022 which saw Pivac win just three games out of 12.

When he first took charge of Wales in late 2007, Gatland immediately won a Six Nations Grand Slam. His team’s supporters are hoping for a repeat trick.

“It (winning the Six Nations) was unbelievable 15 years ago so anything is possible,” said Gatland.

“I’m incredibly competitive and I will do whatever it takes to put this team in a position where it can compete with the best teams in the world. The Six Nations is never a free shot. It’s always been important to us. Playing against Ireland, who are number 1 in the world, will be a big challenge for us.

Howley was banned from rugby for 18 months after breaking betting rules in 2019

Howley was banned from rugby for 18 months after breaking betting rules in 2019

“Gatland was asked if Wales fans could dream of beating Ireland for two weeks on Saturday. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t think there was a chance,” he said matter-of-factly, his face expressionless, but his words full of intent.

“I couldn’t think of a better time to get them than in the first game of the Six Nations. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do when you have the least preparation. They may catch Teams a little off guard.

“I expect the Fürstenstadion to be buzzing. It will give us a really good indication of where we are.

“Gatland loves a challenge and he has one up his sleeve with Wales. The Six Nations are coming soon and then the World Cup. Gatland will take on Eddie Jones at the tournament in France after the former England manager returned to Australia. Wales take on the Wallabies in Lyon on September 24.

“I’m sure he (Jones) will bring his own unique style to this Australian role. It was quite a shock that they removed Dave Rennie and appointed Eddie so quickly,” Gatland said.

“You feel like he can come in and do a job. England have obviously been quite successful against Australia in recent years since Eddie was there and England coached.

“It’s definitely something to look forward to.”

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Maureen Mackey

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