TOYOTA CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Warren Gatland says Wales have “moved on” from the Rob Howley controversy and are only looking to the future as they prepare for a crucial Rugby World Cup Pool D clash with Australia in Tokyo on Sunday.
Coach Gatland’s long-time assistant Howley left the Wales camp before the start of the tournament after allegations that he breached rugby’s betting rules.
The former international scrumhalf had been Gatland’s assistant for 11 years, and twice filled in as caretaker coach when the New Zealander took charge of the British and Irish Lions.
Gatland admits it was “strange” not to have Howley alongside him in the coaching box, but says there is no point dwelling on what has happened.
“It’s like when you lose a key player and we lost a couple of key players in Gareth Anscombe and Toby Faletau. You have just got to draw a line in the sand and move on,” Gatland told reporters on Monday night after Wales beat Georgia in their first Pool D match.
“You can’t change the past and what has happened, you just need to keep looking forward. I told the players that they had been magnificent this week, the way they have trained and the way the senior players have stepped up and taken responsibility.
“It was a little bit strange, but like said before, we have got to keep moving forward.”
Howley has been replaced in the technical team by attack coach Stephen Jones, who won 104 caps for Wales in a 13-year international career, the last four of those seasons played under Gatland.
“Stephen has come in and knows the plays that we have got in our playbook, so he will put a plan in place,” the coach said.
“He is up to speed with drills and getting the structures right, and is focused on helping prepare the team for Australia. I just have to give him as much support as I can.”
Gatland says skills on attack is something they work hard on at training to try and vary their game, which will be key to any success against top teams such as Australia.
“We work on it continually at training and the great thing about World Cups is that you have that preparation time for two or three months leading up to the tournament,” Gatland said.
“So every day we do handling skills, not just the backs but the forwards as well. Just simple drills like getting your hands up early, taking the ball early, staying square.
“We are very lucky that we have a number of skilful players, but it is something that we work on very hard in training.”
Wales beat Australia 9-6 in their previous meeting last November but lost 13 games in a row to the Wallabies before that.
The winner on Sunday is likely to top Pool D and avoid a potential quarter-final with England, the expected winner from Pool C.
Reporting By Nick Said