September 19, 2019 / 8:13 AM / 25 days ago

Warburton backs well-drilled Wales to handle Howley setback

(Reuters) - Wales assistant coach Rob Howley’s departure from the Rugby World Cup over a possible breach of gambling rules would have been a serious distraction if it had happened closer to Monday’s opener against Georgia, former captain Sam Warburton said.

FILE PHOTO: Wales team members take part in a training session before fans ahead of the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Kitakyushu, Japan September 16, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

Howley was sent home on Tuesday, six days before the team’s first match and head coach Warren Gatland said on Wednesday that the incident could ultimately bring the team closer together.

"If it happened closer to a game it would have been a serious distraction and I'd be more worried," Warburton wrote in his column here for The Times newspaper.

“The problem will be these early days where more players are going to have to front up to the press and discuss Rob. They’ll be bombarded by friends and family.

“But they have easily enough time to put that fire out before turning their attentions to Georgia.”

Former Wales flyhalf Stephen Jones will now step into the role of attack coach.

Warburton said the Wales players had the maturity to deal with Howley’s absence in training, pointing to how they coped when Gatland was away coaching the British and Irish Lions.

“I remember always being pleasantly surprised how little that disturbed the team. It’s such a stable group now that it should be the case again,” Warburton, who retired last year at the age of 29 due to injury, added.

“Wales were doing rugby-based training early in their summer schedule so they will have been rehearsing moves and plays for this test time and time again.

“It wouldn’t be a case of Rob having something up his sleeve that he was going to coach them for this game... the players can coach themselves to a certain extent.”

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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