Lions coach Warren Gatland and assistant Rob Howley during the New Zealand tour in 2017.
Banned Wales and Lions assistant coach Rob Howley has opened up on the tragic story behind his gambling and how Warren Gatland told him he was being sent home from the Rugby World Cup.
Howley received an 18-month suspension from World Rugby – nine months of it suspended – in December after he pleaded guilty to 363 charges of betting on matches and breaching the sport’s anti-corruption code.
He was found to have placed bets totalling £4000 (NZ$8000) on rugby over a four-year period.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Howley said guilt over the death of his sister, Karen, in 2011, sparked his gambling.
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Howley said he would visit her every Wednesday, but delayed one until Sunday because Wales were playing in Italy. When he visited there was no answer when he knocked at the door.
“Anybody living or involved with an alcoholic will understand how frustrating it is and the constant lies and deceit that go along with it. I must admit at times I found it very difficult to comprehend,” he told the Daily Mail.
“I blamed myself for her death. If I’d seen her on that Wednesday, would she still be alive?”
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Then he began to bet on rugby, including in matches he was coaching, saying it gave him a reason to forget.
“It was all about escaping from my dark thoughts. It was never about the money. Never,” Howley said.
“When my thoughts went towards my sister, betting on rugby was an escapism that took me to a different space. So, yeah, that’s what it was. It was wrong and I hold my hands up. I messed up.
“I lost £4000 over four years, so I wasn’t exactly good at it, was I? I was even using my work email address and phone. Pretty stupid, isn’t it? If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”
When he was eventually sprung, Howley was confronted by Gatland and Wales manager Alan Phillips in the bar of their Kitakyushu hotel when preparing to face Georgia at the World Cup in September.
“Oblivious to what was about to come, I had half a lager and asked, ‘Is everything OK?’ Thumper [Phillips] said, ‘Have you been betting on rugby?’ Pardon? Gats asked the same thing and I said, ‘Yeah, I have’. Thumper put his hands to his head and there was this silence.
“Gats asked me how significant the amounts were and I told him there were some bets on Wales. By that point, Martyn Phillips and Julie Paterson, from the Welsh Rugby Union, were already flying over from Heathrow.
“Warren said, ‘I think you’re going to be sent home, Rob’ and my first thoughts were my family.”