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Former Wales star Rob Howley returns to rugby with Canadian national team

Rob Howley, a former star scrum half for Wales and the British and Irish Lions whose coaching career was derailed by a betting scandal, has returned to rugby as senior assistant coach for the Canadian national men's team.

Rob Howley, a former star scrum half for Wales and the British and Irish Lions whose coaching career was derailed by a betting scandal, has returned to rugby as senior assistant coach for the Canadian national men's team.

The former Wales back coach was banned from the sport for 18 months — with nine months suspended — last December for betting on matches, including Wales games.

Howley has signed a three-year contract with Rugby Canada which takes him through the 2023 World Cup. As part of the deal, the 49-year-old will work with the Toronto Arrows as a consultant for the 2021 Major League Rugby season.

"He's a great coach," Canada coach Kingsley Jones, a former Wales captain, said in an interview.

"I just saw an opportunity there to bring a world-class coach to Canada, to help our coaches, to help our program," he added.

Howley's suspension was backdated to his withdrawal from Wales' World Cup campaign, on Sept. 16, 2019. Howley was sent home from Japan six days before Wales' opening match.

The disciplinary panel overseeing his case said the betting was in part triggered by the death of his sister.

"If it was a situation where I didn't know the coach, I don't think we would be going down this road," said Jones. "But I've known Rob for 30 years almost, played sevens with him, played for Wales with him.

"We've been on some long tours — South Africa, Australia et cetera. Five-, six-week rugby tours where one of us has been the captain or the vice-captain. We've had a tight relationship through that. So I know Rob very very well."

Jones said Howley had made a mistake and paid for it. The suspension reportedly cost Howley the head coaching job with Italy.

"He's come out of that, particularly the last six seven months, with a lot of credit from a lot of people the way he's managed himself," said Jones.

Howley is not expected to be able to make it to Canada for a men's November camp. Jones said he will likely start in March with the Arrows.

Born in Bridgend, Howley won 59 caps for Wales and was selected for British and Irish Lions tours in 1997 and 2001. On the club level, he played for Cardiff before joining England's Wasps, where he won two Premiership titles and the 2004 Heineken Cup.

On the coaching front, Howley began as an assistant coach with Cardiff before joining the staff of the Welsh national team. He was a member of the Wales coaching staff for the 2011 and 2015 World Cups and served as interim head coach, stepping in for Warren Gatland, in 2012-13 and 2016-17.

Howley won the Six Nations Championship in 2013 as head coach.

He also served as attack coach for the British and Irish Lions for the 2009 tour of South Africa, the 2013 tour to Australia, and the 2017 tour to New Zealand.

"I am absolutely delighted to be joining Rugby Canada and begin working alongside Kingsley Jones and the other Canadian coaches," said Howley. "I'm excited to get to work and help prepare Canada for Rugby World Cup qualification. I am also looking forward to my first season in MLR with the Toronto Arrows.

"There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the synergy of a professional club loaded with domestic players in an emerging league to help support the national team — it is very similar to my past experience coaching in Wales."

Dustin Hopkins, Rugby Canada's director of rugby operations, thanked Arrows founder Bill Webb and the "philanthropic donations from dedicated Canadian rugby supporters" in helping the national governing body bring Howley on board.

"We are fortunate and excited to have Rob on board to work with our club's young Canadian coaching staff," said Mark Winokur, the Arrows COO and GM. "Not only does Rob bring his vast experience, but his manner and attitude meshes perfectly with the values and culture of the Arrows, and our guys are really fired up about welcoming him into the Arrows environment."

The Arrows kick of their third season in MLR next March.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2020.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press