I have to prove myself all over again, admits Howley
Coach sent home in disgrace from World Cup and banned for betting on games cannot wait to make a new start with Canada
Ayear after he returned home shamefacedly from the World Cup in Japan once it was discovered that he had been betting on rugby matches, former Wales coach Rob Howley has told
The Daily Telegraph that he has “to prove himself all over again”, after an experience that he says he “would not wish on my worst enemy”.
Howley has been confirmed as assistant coach to Rugby Canada in a three-year deal that will take him through to the next World Cup in France, his first job since serving an 18-month ban (nine months of which was suspended) for his illicit activities.
It is just over 12 months to the day since Wales’s World Cup preparations were rocked and Howley’s world was plunged into turmoil after the 49-year-old’s gambling habit was exposed, a tip-off from a bookmaker leaving Welsh Rugby Union executives no option but to fly to Japan and unceremoniously expel their long-standing coach just a few days before the tournament began.
Howley returned to Wales as a pariah, even needing to cover his head with a blanket in the back of the car carrying him home to Bridgend and not venturing out in public for almost three months.
It was a few months after the World Rugby investigation came to its conclusion in December, imposing its suspension for Howley’s admission that he had placed 363 bets on 1,163 matches over a fouryear period, that the former Lions and Wales scrum-half disclosed the distressing details of the alcoholism and subsequent death of his sister, Karen, an event that triggered his own descent into erratic, wayward behaviour.
Howley has apologised to all manner of people, from his family to the Wales management and players, as well as the game at large, “having had dark thoughts and battling demons” that saw him undergo sessions with a clinical psychologist for three months. “It has all been traumatic for everyone involved and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” said Howley, who has a contract for 30 weeks of the year and who hopes to be able to fly to Vancouver next month for his first hands-on duties at a three week training camp, Covid19 restrictions permitting.
“I feel as if I have been in lockdown longer than most. I have made my apologies and I accept my responsibility in it all. “There will always be people who have a certain view of me, but I am just delighted to be able now to look forward rather than backwards. It has been a tough, tough challenge for my family especially, but after the professional help I received, I now understand the reasons behind it all and I like to think I am now a better character, a stronger person. I have never even been to Canada, so a wholly different place as well as lifestyle was very much part of the attraction. But above all, I just want to get back to a job I love.”
Howley will be linking up with a former team-mate in Canada head coach Kingsley Jones, who helped to make the first approach a couple of months ago.
Howley had had only one other serious possibility of work when his own former club, Wasps, made contact early in the year. He had been on the brink of agreeing terms to take over from Conor O’Shea with the Italy national team following the 2019 World Cup.
There is little doubt that for all the reputational damage suffered, Howley is held in high regard, as befits a man who won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, in a 12-year coaching career working alongside Warren Gatland at Wales.
There were also three tours of duty with the Lions, mention of which prompts the thought that the Lions tour to South Africa with Gatland in charge again is approaching.
“Warren, as well as manager Alan Phillips, have been like family to me through all this but no, there has been absolutely no talk of the Lions,” said Howley, who will be based in Toronto and will have a role also with Major League Rugby side Toronto Arrows.
“I want to devote all my energies to helping Rugby Canada, to help players to make the best of themselves.”
“I’d like to think that I have a winning mindset and that I can pass on my belief and confidence,” he added.
“It will still be a red jersey, but with a different badge.
“These have been unsettling times for a lot of people and I am truly grateful for all the support I have received. It is time to get back to work.”
Back in the spotlight: Rob Howley says he has overcome his demons after sessions with a clinical psychologist