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Wales coach Warren Gatland told ‘timing not right’ for Howley return

Warren Gatland said he wanted to work with Robert Howley again, but the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) refused.

Under Gatland, Howley was a candidate to coach Wales’ backs, but ex-Wasps teammate Alex King was finally appointed to replace Stephen Jones.

“I would have loved to have Rob,” said Gatland.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Rob as a rugby coach. I suppose the information given to me was the timing wasn’t right.”

Howley’s 11-year reign as Wales backs coach came to an abrupt end just six days before Wales’ opening game of the 2019 World Cup because of a breach of betting rules.

Jones took over as backs coach when Wales reached the semi-finals and ended fourth.

Gatland’s first tenure as Wales manager concluded with the team’s elimination from the 2014 World Cup.

The New Zealander wanted Howley back because he is eyeing forward to the 2023 Six Nations and the World Cup in France in September.

Howley was ultimately banned from the sport for 18 months, nine of which were suspended, and later apologised for his “demons” of betting.

“A lot of that stuff about Rob has been fairly well documented,” added Gatland.

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“You’d like to think that if anyone was going to be forgiving it would be the Welsh forgiving their own.

“It’s been over three years now, but that’s not the case at the moment.”

Howley is now an assistant coach for Canada. His affiliation with Gatland began in 2002, when he joined the coach’s successful Wasps side from Cardiff.

Six years later, during Gatland’s first Wales coaching reign, the former Bridgend player joined the national coaching set-up and enjoyed the first Six Nations Grand Slam that year.

Gatland won two more Grand Slams in 2012 and 2019.

While Gatland was on one of three British and Irish Lions sabbaticals in 2013, Howley guided Wales to the Six Nations title, which they sealed with a 30-3 thrashing of England in Cardiff.

In September 2020, Howley will become an assistant coach to Canada head coach Kingsley Jones, a fellow former Wales captain.

In May 2021, ahead of coaching Canada against Wales in Cardiff that summer, Howley talked of “being able to smile again” after his ban.

“I have a huge amount of love and respect for him and worked closely with him,” added Gatland.

“I’m sure that given the opportunity I’ll get the chance to work with him again in the future.

“Hopefully Rob will continue to be involved in rugby. He’s been involved with Canada and had the backing of World Rugby who have been funding that position, which is a real positive.

“I’d just like to see him involved at the highest possible level again in the future.”

Gatland insisted he was happy with the appointment of King, who was Wales’ backs coach for a short spell in 2017.

“I’m extremely lucky with Alex coming on board,” added Gatland.

“I’ve worked with him before and I think hopefully he’ll fit in seamlessly to the backs role as a coach and he’ll add a lot.”

Gatland is set to clash with Eddie Jones at the World Cup after the former England coach was named Australia’s new coach this week, replacing Dave Rennie.

Wales will play the Wallabies in the 2023 World Cup on September 24 in Lyon.

“I got a bit of a surprise and I’m looking forward to that,” added Gatland.

“I’m sure he’ll bring his own unique style into that Australian role.

“It was quite a shock they removed Dave Rennie so quickly and appointed Eddie.

“They feel he can come in and do a job.

“England have been pretty successful against Australia over recent years since Eddie has been involved and coaching England. It’s definitely something to look forward to.”