Wales assistant coach Rob Howley sent home from World Cup in Japan for alleged breach of betting rules

17 Sep

Wales assisant coach Rob Howley has been sent home from the Rugby World Cup in Japan six days until their opening match against Georgia begins.

The former Wales captain, who has been part of Warren Gatland’s coaching team since 2008, has left the squad’s Kitakyushu base due to an alleged breach of betting rules.

British and Irish Lions assistant Rob Howley dismisses referee bullying claims from Steve Hansen
Rob Howley has been sent home from the World Cup

The developments will send shock-waves reverberating throughout the rugby world.

The 48-year-old enjoyed a glittering playing career, winning 59 caps for Wales and captaining his country on 22 occasions, while also helping Wasps to be crowned European champions in 2004.

He also played for the British and Irish Lions in 1997 and 2001, and was part of the Lions coaching staff on their last three tours.
He had been due to leave his Wales coaching role after the World Cup, along with Gatland and fellow assistants Shaun Edwards and Robin McBryde.

Howley was recently linked with succeeding Conor O’Shea as Italy head coach following the tournament.

In a statement, the WRU said: “The WRU can confirm that Rob Howley has returned to Wales to assist with an investigation in relation to a potential breach of World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union.

“The decision was taken to act immediately in light of recent information passed to the WRU.

“No further details can be provided at this stage as this would prejudice the investigation. If required, an independent panel will be appointed to hear the case.

“Rob has co-operated fully with our initial discussions and we would ask that the media appreciate this is a difficult and personal matter for Rob and that his privacy is respected before an outcome is reached.

“Warren Gatland has consulted with senior players, and Stephen Jones will be arriving in Japan imminently to link up with the squad as attack coach.”


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Rugby Union news: Former Wales international Gareth Thomas reveals he is HIV positive

15 Sep

Former Wales international Gareth Thomas has revealed he is HIV positive.

Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with the virus, and has revealed he was driven to suicidal thoughts as a result of his diagnosis.

Gareth Thomas is a former Wales captain

He went public with his illness after being put “through hell” by blackmailers who threatened to expose his secret.

The 45-year-old told the Sunday Mirror: “I’ve been living with this secret for years.

“I’ve felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.

“I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.

“To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.”

The former British and Irish Lions captain, who will be a TV pundit in the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan, said he “broke down” when he got the news of his diagnosis.

Thomas said: “I went for a routine sexual health test at a private clinic in Cardiff.

“I didn’t feel ill and thought everything was going to be fine.

“When (the doctor) said those words… I immediately thought I was going to die.

“I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300mph. Then I was thinking ‘how long have I got left?'”

He added: “I’ve been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. It’s sick and I’ve been through hell.

“I was being blackmailed and in my mind I thought you only get blackmailed for something really bad, which compounded the feeling of shame.”

Gareth Thomas with talkSPORT’S Andy Jacobs and Paul Hawksbee and the Rugby League World Cup
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The former Cardiff Blues player won 103 caps and scored 41 tries for Wales between 1995 and 2007, and he is 13th on the all-time international test try-scoring list.

Last November, he was attacked in Cardiff city centre in a homophobic hate crime, but asked South Wales Police to deal with the 16-year-old assailant by way of restorative justice.

The sportsman now takes one tablet containing four medications each day, and doctors have said his condition is under control to the point that it is considered “undetectable” and cannot be passed on.

Thomas said that his husband Stephen, who he met after his diagnosis and married three years ago, does not have HIV.

His decision to speak out was backed by the Duke of Cambridge, through his Kensington Palace account, adding “W” meaning it was written by William himself.

 

Ian Green, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV charity, said Thomas’s diagnosis may help change public attitudes.

“I’m very proud to call Gareth Thomas a friend. Gareth is proof that an HIV diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do – whatever that is.

“I hope that by speaking publicly about this Gareth will transform attitudes towards HIV that are all too often stuck in the 1980s.”

Mr Green said improving treatment “means that people living with HIV like Gareth now live long healthy lives”.

“This is exactly the kind of information Gareth wants to get out there to challenge the stigma that still surrounds this virus.”

Mr Green said that Thomas blazed a trail by being the first rugby player to come out as gay and “has done so much to encourage inclusion and diversity within the sport”.

He added: “Now he is doing that once again with HIV and taking on the challenge of a lifetime in Ironman Wales to show that this virus doesn’t need to be a barrier when you’re diagnosed and accessing treatment.”

Wales climb to top of world rankings with victory over England in World Cup warm-up

17 Aug

Wales climbed to the top of rugby union’s world rankings for the first time after beating England 13-6 in Cardiff.

The hosts’ rise to the summit, which ended New Zealand’s unbroken 10-year occupation, comes just 34 days before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.

Wales edged England out in a low scoring affair
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It was an impressive warm-up performance for the tournament as they reeled off an 11th successive home win.

Wing George North’s 34th-minute try sent Wales on their way to avenging a 33-19 defeat at Twickenham last weekend, while Dan Biggar converted and kicked a penalty to leave England 10 points adrift at half-time.

But there was an injury scare for Wales when Biggar took two blows to his left shoulder – he eventually went off five minutes from time – only six days after his fellow number 10 Gareth Anscombe suffered a World Cup-ending knee injury.

England were slicker and more cohesive after the break, but Wales restricted them to a couple of George Ford penalties before a late Leigh Halfpenny strike sealed victory.

Centre Piers Francis and prop Dan Cole delivered strong performances for England in their first game since head coach Eddie Jones announced his 31-man World Cup squad.

Wales, though, had enough in the tank to close matters out ahead of a week’s training in Turkey and resuming pre-World Cup action against Ireland in a fortnight’s time.

England suffered a blow ahead of the game when wing Ruaridh McConnochie was ruled out because of a hamstring problem.

The Bath wing was due to make his Test debut, but his club colleague Anthony Watson replaced him.

And Wales were also forced into a late switch after full-back Liam Williams suffered a hamstring issue during the warm-up, meaning that Halfpenny was handed a first Test match appearance since November.

It was a disappointing afternoon for England
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Wales made a high-tempo start, twice testing England full-back Elliot Daly under the high ball and looking to move possession wide at pace, before an eighth-minute fracas among the forwards ended with referee Pascal Gauzere warning and penalising Wales prop Tomas Francis.

It gave England some territorial momentum, with number eight Billy Vunipola and wing Joe Cokanasiga prominent, and there was a sign of Halfpenny’s rustiness after such a lengthy international lay-off when he could not gather a steepling Ford kick.

James and Jonathan Davies, the first brothers to start together in Wales colours for 13 years, were at the heart of their team’s attacking efforts, but a lively opening quarter ended scoreless.

James Davies went off after 24 minutes after it appeared that England lock Maro Itoje’s knee accidentally caught him on the head, with Josh Navidi replacing him.

Tempers boiled during the fiery clash
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Biggar kicked a penalty to open the scoring, and England then had Watson sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on. Wales punished him before he had barely left the pitch.

Josh Adams made a break before possession found its way to Biggar, whose clever kick was caught by an unmarked North on the wing Watson would have been defending, before he touched down and claimed his 38th Wales try.

Biggar converted, with England seeing scrum-half Willi Heinz going off for a head injury assessment and being replaced by Ben Youngs and Wales securing a 10-0 interval advantage.

Heinz returned for the second period before Youngs took over from him permanently, while Aaron Shingler replaced an impressive Aaron Wainwright in Wales’ back row and England prop Joe Marler also appeared for a first time since coming out of international retirement.

Ford kicked two penalties in six minutes to cut Wales’ lead, but England could not breach the Welsh defence and they were left frustrated seven-point losers following Halfpenny’s long-range penalty during the closing stages.

England name team to face Wales in Rugby World Cup warm-up game with Ruaridh McConnochie to make debut

15 Aug

Ruaridh McConnochie is set to make his England debut against Wales on Sunday after overcoming a hip injury.

The Bath wing and sevens specialist was picked in the team to face the Grand Slam champions at Twickenham for the World Cup warm-up match last weekend but was among a trio of late withdrawals due to injury.

Ruaridh McConnochie is set to make his England debut
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Anthony Watson has been left out of the matchday 23 after completing his comeback from a 17-month absence due to an Achilles issue, so Joe Cokanasiga lines up on the opposite wing.

England captain Owen Farrell makes his first appearance of the World Cup warm-up schedule but is confined to a place on the bench, meaning George Ford will lead the team once more.

There are three changes in total to the side that beat Wales 33-19 with Maro Itoje restored to the second row in place of Charlie Ewels, with Joe Launchbury still present.

George Ford will lead England against Wales
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The final adjustment comes in the back row where Courtney Lawes packs down at blindside flanker, forcing Lewis Ludlam to switch to seven.

Eddie Jones has also surprisingly opted to name two hookers on the bench in the form of Jamie George and Jack Singleton rather than choose a supporting back row.

Jones said: “Our selection strategy for our second game is similar to the first, so a bit of a mix-and-match approach.

“We are looking at different combinations and have a particular strategy for this game.”

Piers Francis and Jonathan Joseph are reunited as the centre pairing and New Zealand-born Willi Heinz wins his second cap at scrum-half.

Jones said: “The game is very much about ourselves preparing for the World Cup and we are respectful that we have got such strong opposition at their home ground.

“We are looking forward to it. The squad has been progressing well this week and I think there is a realisation now that the hard work really starts, nothing has been achieved.”

England 33-19 Wales: Eddie Jones’ men kick off World Cup preparations by ending winning run of Warren Gatland’s side

11 Aug

England got their World Cup preparations off to the ideal start with a 33-19 victory over Wales at Twickenham.

It also brought an end to Wales’ 14-Test winning run which prevented them from climbing to the top of the global rankings, with 13 of the starters from Warren Gatland’s Grand-Slam clinching win over Ireland in March.

Billy Vunipola was among the try scorers for England
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An experimental England team established a healthy 24-7 lead through tries by Billy Vunipola, Joe Cokanasiga and Luke Cowan-Dickie that survived touchdowns from George North and Wyn Jones.

George Ford, captain in the absence of Owen Farrell, finished with 15 points in a perfect afternoon from the tee and there was the successful return from a 17-month Achilles injury lay-off for Anthony Watson.

Wales have not won at Twickenham since the last World Cup and never looked like ending that run to spoil the occasion of skipper Alun Wyn Jones becoming his nation’s most capped player.

The rivals’ first Test of the summer was played at a frenetic pace and the physicality took its toll as the outstanding Tom Curry departed in the first half nursing a damaged shoulder and was followed off by Wales playmaker Gareth Anscombe, who had an issue with his right knee.

Wales have not won at Twickenham since the 2015 World Cup
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Curry’s injury was particularly worrying after fellow openside Sam Underhill was withdrawn from the starting XV because of a toe injury.

Underhill was one of three players to pull out on the eve of the match, contributing to a disrupted build-up that also saw Ben Te’o and Mike Brown removed from contention after clashing during a social event in Treviso last week.

But there was no evidence of squad tension as England made a bulldozing start with Vunipola following up a muscular carry with a second that somehow ended with him touching down despite being surrounded by red shirts.

Curry, Cokanasiga and Watson also made early dents and when Curry charged down a sluggish clearance by Gareth Davies, a second try beckoned.

It was almost scored by Willi Heinz and the Gloucester captain should have passed to Jonathan Joseph, but England were just inches short and Cokanasiga drove over.

Watson saved a certain try by scything down Justin Tipuric as Wales staged a thrilling counter-attack through Anscombe and that raid had the effect of stirring the Six Nations champions.

England had a hand in their 24th-minute try, however, as Vunipola and Heinz parted when Davies broke from a scrum near the halfway line and the scrum-half sprinted ahead before evading Elliot Daly to cross.

But for greater accuracy at the final pass, Wales would have scored again as England endured the familiar sight of their early onslaught running out of gas.

A disastrous line-out undid much of the visitors’ good work as Ken Owens sent the ball over the hands of Alun Wyn Jones and into the path of hooker Cowan-Dickie, who scored an opportunist’s try.

The lead grew to 24-7 through a Ford penalty but England were picked apart too easily at a line-out, enabling North to power across the whitewash from short range.

The tide was turning, hastened by England giving away a succession of penalties, and on Wales’ next attack they hustled their way upfield before for replacement prop Wyn Jones to score.

Two further Ford penalties calmed home nerves, but the tempo of the match had dropped noticeably in the final quarter until carries from Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi provided inspiration.

Ben Youngs had a try disallowed for a clear forward pass from Cowan-Dickie, meaning Daly’s drop-goal was the last meaningful act of the afternoon.

Fly-half George Ford scored 15 points for England
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England vs Wales confirmed teams: Willi Heinz and Ruaridh McConnochie given debuts ahead of World Cup

9 Aug

Willi Heinz will make his England debut against Wales on Sunday as vice-captain despite his lack of Test experience.

The New Zealand-born 32-year-old has been given the stage to prove he deserves a place at this autumn’s World Cup after being picked as the starting scrum-half for the warm-up Test at Twickenham.

Willi Heinz has impressed Eddie Jones during England’s World Cup training camps
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Ben Youngs, England’s first choice in the position, is included on the bench for a game that takes place 24 hours before Eddie Jones finalises his 31-man squad for Japan 2019.

“Willi’s got an opportunity. He’s been good with Gloucester and he deserves this chance,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.

“We’ve got a pool of good half-backs and he’s in that pool. We know what the others can do, so let’s see what he can do.

“Willi’s quite aggressive and forceful and that’s a different profile for us, so let’s see how he goes.”

McConnochie also starts for England at Twickenham
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With three further warm-up Tests to come, Owen Farrell misses out altogether so George Ford starts at fly-half and is also named captain of a side that contains 377 caps.

“Willie’s been brilliant since he came in and has been brilliant for Gloucester up until this point. He’s captained them as well,” Ford said.

“More than that have been his actions on the training field. He has so much energy and everything you want from a nine, such as the strong execution of the basics.

“And he speaks well off the field, which is a massive help to someone who is playing outside him.”

Anthony Watson will add another dimension to England‘s attack on Sunday
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Also winning his first cap is Ruaridh McConnochie, the Bath wing who followed up a fine spell in sevens with a strong finish to the 2018-19 Gallagher Premiership season.

Lining up the other wing is Test Lion Anthony Watson, who will be making his first appearance for England since damaging his Achilles at the end of the 2018 Six Nations.

Piers Francis profits from Ben Te’o’s unexpected absence from the training squad by winning his fourth cap in a centre partnership alongside Henry Slade.

For the first time, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry start in the same back row despite being specialist opensides with the latter packing down at six.

The first of back-to-back matches against Wales presents a number of players with their last chance to secure their World Cup places.

Prop Dan Cole and locks Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels will be looking to impress against Warren Gatland’s side and help gain revenge for defeat in the Six Nations in February.

Warren Gatland EXCLUSIVE: Wales and Lions head coach ‘categorically’ rules out coaching England in the future

12 Jun

Warren Gatland has ‘categorically’ ruled out coaching England in an exclusive interview with talkSPORT.

The New Zealander will leave his post as head coach of Wales after 12 years following this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

He will then take charge of the Barbarians against the Welsh at the Principality Stadium on November 30, which he says will be his chance to say goodbye to the Wales team and their fans.

Warren Gatland will take charge of his third British and Irish Lions tour in South Africa in 2021
getty

On Wednesday, Gatland was confirmed as British and Irish Lions head coach for the third time for the 2021 tour of South Africa, but there has been plenty of speculation over his long-term plans.

The 55-year-old has been linked as a possible replacement for England head coach Eddie Jones, who has just two years remaining on his contract with the RFU.

But Gatland was keen to point out to any worried Welsh supporters that he has no plans to take over at Twickenham.

Speaking to talkSPORT’s Andrew McKenna, he said: “I can categorically tell the Welsh fans I will not be coaching England, there’s been lots of speculation about that.”

There are nine months between the end of the World Cup in Japan and when he officially begins his preparations for the Lions tour – so what will he do in the meantime, and then beyond?

Gatland is hoping to continue Wales’ brilliant 2019 at the upcoming World Cup in Japan
getty

Asked about his future plans, Gatland revealed: “I finish with Wales after the World Cup and wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do, so the Lions approached me and said,  ‘we want to make this appointment early to have you involved but also to make sure we’ve got you secured before you think about going to another position’.

“I’m talking to a couple of people about prospects after the Lions tour and perhaps doing something between the World Cup and August next year when I officially take over the role [as Lions head coach]. Those conversations are going on at the moment but there’s nothing confirmed.

“It’s a big few months building towards Japan and my whole focus after today is going back and solely thinking about that with Wales and doing as well as we possibly can. We’ve had a great year so far and we’re looking forward to having a great World Cup.

“I’ll be coaching the Barbarians against Wales on November 30, and the Welsh Rugby Union have targeted that, having been in Wales for 12 years, as kind of a farewell match.

“So I’m really looking forward to that, it’ll be a great send off and it’s a chance for me to thank the fans for the great support that I’ve had in my time with Wales.

“And I can categorically tell the Welsh fans I will not be coaching England.

Gatland was strongly linked with succeeding Eddie Jones as England head coach
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“It’s a really exciting year, and then I can have a bit of a break to thinking about South Africa and the Lions and what a privilege and an honour it is to be involved with that iconic side, and about the possibility of trying to go three tours undefeated as a head coach in the Test series.

“That would be pretty special and something I would treasure for the rest of my life.”

Listen back to talkSPORT’s EXCLUSIVE interview with Warren Gatland IN FULL above

When is the next British and Irish Lions tour? Warren Gatland confirmed as Head Coach for South Africa tests

12 Jun

Warren Gatland has confirmed he will take charge of his third British and Irish Lions tour when they make the trip to South Africa.

Gatland lead the Lions to a dramatic series draw against New Zealand in 2017 and a 2-1 series win over Australia in 2013.

Warren Gatland will take charge of his third British and Irish Lions tour in South Africa in 2021
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The Kiwi is now set to do so again when Home Nations team travel to the face the Springboks.

Gatland will relinquish his role as Wales boss after the upcoming World Cup and will then start his official Lions duties in August 2020.

That’ll give him plenty of time to consider his options for the trip to Africa along with new Lions Chairman Jason Leonard and first full-time managing director Ben Calveley.

British and Irish Lions tour: When is it?

The Lions will head to South Africa for their tour in the summer of 2021.

While exact dates have not been confirmed as of yet, the tour will likely take place throughout June and culminate in early July.

The 2021 tour will be shorter than recent editions of the showpiece event.

The Lions have tended to play ten matches during the trips but will compete in a total of eight games this time around.

That will include a three-match test series against South Africa plus five additional games against local teams.

Warren Gatland ‘s Lions drew with New Zealand on their tour in 2017
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British and Irish Lions tour: What has Warren Gatland said?

On being confirmed as the Lions Head Coach once again, Gatland said: “I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again.

“It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations.

“The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.

“South Africa is a special place to play rugby.

“They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.

“Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.

“History tells you it’s a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win. I would not be here if I thought differently.

“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales.”

Warren Gatland agrees to become British and Irish Lions coach for 2021 South Africa tour

10 May

Warren Gatland is understood to have agreed to become head coach of the British and Irish Lions for the tour to South Africa in 2021.

The Lions have moved swiftly to secure Gatland for a record third successive term, in the process ending the prospect of the Kiwi replacing Eddie Jones as England boss after the World Cup.

Warren Gatland will allegedly take charge of the Lions for a third tour

Although the contract has yet to be signed, as Gatland is currently in New Zealand, a verbal agreement has been reached.

A start date has yet to be finalised, but it is likely that the most successful coach in Six Nations history will take up the role a year out from the tour.

It means Gatland will complete the set of Lions tour destinations following a series win against Australia in 2013 and a draw with New Zealand four years later.

A spokesman for the Lions declined to comment on Gatland’s potential appointment.

Recruiting Gatland is a coup for Lions managing director Ben Calveley, who viewed the 55-year-old as the outstanding candidate for the role.

The Lions won the 2013 tour to Australia

Gatland steps down as Wales boss after the World Cup and as one of the game’s finest coaches, he was linked with a number of positions including England.

Since taking charge of Wales in 2007, he has masterminded four Six Nations titles including three Grand Slams and passage into the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup.

Wales coach Shaun Edwards tells talkSPORT clarity over his Wigan Warriors future will arise in the coming days

20 Mar

Shaun Edwards has told talkSPORT he will offer clarity on his uncertain future in the coming days, after revealing he hasn’t signed a contract with Wigan Warriors.

The Super League club announced in August that Edwards, their former player, would become head coach in 2020 when his current role as Wales defence coach comes to an end.

Shaun Edwards has not signed a contract with Wigan

However, after helping Wales win the Six Nations Grand Slam on Saturday, the former scrum-half claimed he will be unemployed after the World Cup this summer – because the Warriors failed to finalise his return to rugby league.

Edwards would subsequently become available for a role in the England set-up, which he has been linked to alongside Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

Wigan, clearly stunned by Edwards’ comments, declared their intention to speak with him as a matter of urgency, and the Englishman today offered some clarity on talkSPORT.

“I’m going to speak to Wigan over the next few days,” he told Jim White.

Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards have been linked with England

“I’ve not signed a contract and I’ve been conversing with the chairman and there’ll be a statement in the next few days.”

He added: “I need to come down to Earth.

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“It’s like having five Challenge Cup finals on the bounce being in the Six Nations because of the size of crowd.

“I need time to think and evaluate the situation.”

More to follow…