Warren Gatland says the Wales team were “shocked” by the news of Rob Howley’s alleged breach of World Rugby’s betting and anti-corruption regulations.
On Tuesday, Wales assistant coach Howley was sent home from the Rugby World Cup six days before their tournament opener against Georgia, and has been suspended from all matters relating to rugby.
He will be banned immediately from the tournament pending a disciplinary hearing. Meanwhile, former fly-half Stephen Jones, who was set to take over the role in 2020, is flying out to replace him.
“We were shocked by it,” Gatland told a press conference in Kitakyushu on Wednesday.
“At the moment, these are allegations. Rob is devastated by the allegations.”
The 48-year-old former Wales captain has been part of Gatland’s coaching team since 2008.
Gatland added: “It took a bit of time to sink in. It is now how we turn a difficult situation into a positive one.
“I texted Rob to see how he got home and that he was OK.”
The 56-year-old coach admitted: “You have to deal with adversity at times, the players have really stepped up. We have got to draw a line in the sand.
“My focus has to be on preparing the team for the first World Cup game against Georgia. It hasn’t really altered preparations. It will focus us. It is important we focus on the rugby.”
Chief executive Martyn Phillips said the Welsh Rugby Union needed to act quickly in sending Howley home.
“We were contacted on Wednesday last week, and then contacted formally with some further information on Friday,” said Phillips.
“We needed to be quick and decisive. We were very conscious that we acted in a way you would expect a governing body to act.
“After open training on Monday, we sat down with Rob. He was very co-operative. The formal process will carry on back in Wales.
“There will be an investigation. It is a pretty serious allegation. The investigation hasn’t started. There are other agencies to manage. My focus is on doing it right.
“We have made a change, and I think we stick with that change now. Stephen is coming and he is in for the duration.”
World Rugby has also stated that it “fully supports” the Welsh Rugby Union’s “proactive approach” over the Howley allegations.
A statement read: “World Rugby has been informed by the Welsh Rugby Union of a potential breach of World Rugby Regulation 6 (specifically betting on rugby) by a member of the union’s RWC 2019 coaching team.
“World Rugby fully supports the WRU’s proactive approach to this matter and can confirm that the union is keeping us informed of their initial discussions.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further? on an open and evolving process.”
Biggar: We have a lot of strong characters
Outside-half Dan Biggar, who has 70 caps for his country, says the Wales squad will try not to let Howley’s exit from the camp affect their preparations for their World Cup campaign.
“It’s a huge disappointment, really, and shock, I suppose, but we are also adults and realise if things like this happen then we have just got to get on with it.
“Especially for people like myself and Jon (centre Jonathan Davies), who have only ever had Rob as coach in the set-up and he has given us every single cap we’ve had.
“That’s what has been great about this squad over the last year or two is that whatever has come our way – we had a couple of distractions in the last Six Nations and we went on to win our final two games and the Grand Slam – we are strong.