Wales coach Warren Gatland admitted the squad has been left shocked after assistant Rob Howley was sent home for breaching World Rugby betting regulations.
On Tuesday, the Welsh Rugby Union confirmed Howley is returning to Wales after coming under investigation for breaking World Rugby regulation 6, specifically betting on rugby union.
That follows recent information being passed on to the WRU, with an independent panel potentially to be appointed to hear the case.
Howley had been part of the Welsh management team for 11 years, and his absence will come as a considerable disruption to Wales’ preparations just a few days ahead of the World Cup kick-off.
‘We were shocked,’ Gatland said. ‘The union are dealing with this, and my focus has to be on the next five days in terms of preparing the squad for the first game against Georgia.’
Stephen Jones, who was set to form part of the Wales coaching staff after the World Cup, will now take over from Howley with immediate effect.
‘I spoke to Stephen the other night about his availability, and he was willing to help,’ Gatland said. ‘He has either played or worked with two thirds of the squad. He will bring his own personality and have the opportunity to have his input and his own ideas. That’s important. For us, it is to make it as seamless as we possibly can.
‘You have to deal with adversity at times, and it’s how you respond and react to that. This has happened. I must say that the players in the last 24 hours have really stepped up and they have been incredibly responsible and resilient, and sometimes that brings teams closer together.’
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips added that senior players were consulted and decided that Jones was the best candidate to replace Howley.
‘Clearly, one of the key decisions was whether we wanted to substitute Rob, for want of a better phrase,’ Phillips said. ‘The decision was made by Warren and some of the senior players to call Stephen Jones up. We actioned that on Monday evening and Stephen has been busy getting himself organised.
‘He should arrive in the country on Thursday.’
Wales’ first World Cup game is on Monday in Toyota City against Georgia.
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