DAVID BARNES in TOKYO
THE WELSH RUGBY UNION have revealed that they were first made aware of Rob Howley’s alleged breach of World Rugby’s betting regulations last Wednesday following contact from one of the gambling industry’s integrity teams, by which point the 48-year-old assistant coach had already departed for Japan ahead of the World Cup.
“We were contacted informally on Wednesday of last week to suggest there was a potential breach of regulation six. It came from one of the betting company’s integrity teams,” said WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips. “We were then contacted formally with further information on Friday evening and at that point we informed World Rugby there was a potential breach and we would be seeking face-to-face time with Rob. We reached the decision on Saturday that we were best placed to come out to Japan.
“That triggered the formal process we’re now in and it will carry on back in Wales. It is a serious allegation about Rob. He’s our employee and we have a duty of care to him. I can assure you that has been a major factor we’ve considered over the last few days. Rob is back in Wales and we have put the necessary support around him. We’re checking in on his wellbeing as we formalise our processes to get through the investigation.”
The 48-year-old assistant coach left Wales’ World Cup camp on Monday and will be investigated over a possible breach of World Rugby’s regulation six which covers anti-corruption and betting.
Wales’ entire 31-man World Cup squad learned of Howley’s departure on Tuesday night, but Gatland’s senior leadership group – which includes captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Jonathan Davies, Justin Tipuric, Cory Hill and Dan Biggar – were informed 24 hours earlier before Wales’ official welcome and capping ceremony in Kitakyushu. Howley did not attend that ceremony.
An investigation into Howley will be led by the WRU, but Phillips admitted an independent judicial panel is likely to be involved.
Head coach Warren Gatland – who has worked with Howley in Wales since 2008 – had to deal with the departure of his most trusted lieutenant on his 56th birthday. “I have had better birthdays for sure,” he said. “We were shocked. The Union are dealing with this and my focus has to be on the next five days in terms of preparing the squad for the first World Cup game against Georgia.
“You have to deal with adversity at times and it’s how you respond to that. I must say the players have really stepped up in the last 24 hours. They have been incredibly responsible and resilient. Sometimes that brings teams closer together.
“We have got to draw a line in the sand on this and really focus on preparing the team for the next five days. We got a shock the other day and it took a bit of time for this to sink in.”
The former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones will arrive in Japan on Thursday to replace Howley. Jones was set to succeed Howley as Wales attack coach after the World Cup, but he has been pressed into action sooner than expected and will meet up with Wales in Toyota, ahead of the team’s World Cup opener against Georgia on Monday.
Springbok coach keeps heat on referee Jerome Garces
South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus has pleaded for French referee Jerome Garces to make balanced decisions in Yokohama on Saturday night, during a fixture between the Springboks and the All Blacks that appears certain to determine who tops Pool B.
“Our boys will think they have got a really good chance and I think if you asked Steve [Hansen – the New Zealand coach] and their team, they will think they have got a really good chance, and hopefully the referee is not too sure [of the result],” he said. “That is the way a World Cup should be.”
Asked to clarify his comment, Erasmus spoke about the widespread reputation the All Blacks have as the dominant rugby nation on the planet. “Even referees buy into that respect,” he said. “And because you are playing so well, referees almost find it tough to penalise you in 50-50 decisions.”
Erasmus has made just one change to the team that drew 16-16 with All Blacks in late July.
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Predictive science foresees an New Zealand versus Wales final
EVERYONE has their own theory on how this World Cup is going to pan out and Aletryx, a leading end-to-end analytics platform used to help businesses ‘break data barriers, deliver insights, and experience the thrill of getting to the answer faster’, has stuck its neck out by not only predicting the ultimately lift the Webb Ellis Cup, but also telling us their take on the outcomes and winning margins of every match from the quarter-finals onwards.
Leveraging data from Opta, Alteryx has built a predictive model to analyse every kick, tackle and try from over 1,000 matches worth of international test match data from the last 12 years (including the last three world cups), to predict New Zealand will beat Wales in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
The ‘linear regression’ model used predicts the outcome of each match and the winning margin by targeting the points difference for each game and variables built around the form of each team coming into the match (win percent, tries per game etc), their ranking difference compared to the opponent, and their recent history against that particular opponent (last win/loss margin, win percent).
Scotland fans will be hoping that the Alteryx has got it wrong, but few will be desperately surprised to see their team slump out of the tournament following an 19 point loss to New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
Alteryx’s quarter-finals predictions –
Ireland to beat South Africa by 7 points
New Zealand to beat Scotland by 18 points
England to beat Australia by 11 points
Wales to beat France by 12 points
Wales to beat Ireland by 7 points
New Zealand to beat England by 3 points
New Zealand to beat Wales by 8 points for a third consecutive title.
Russian all-rounder seeks to make his mark in rugby
RUSSIAN tight-head prop Kirill Gotovtsev might be a novice by Rugby World Cup standards, with this being his first tournament and only his third cap, but he has a rich sporting pedigree which the 33-year-old will be upping stands him in good stead against Japan in Friday night’s tournament curtain-raiser.
He has previously been a professional freestyle wrestler, taking bronze in the super heavy (120kg) weight category at the Russian Championship in 2010, losing in the semi-final to Bakhtiyar Akhmedov, who was Olympic gold medallist in the same category in Beijing 2008. Them in 2012, Gotovtsev switched to bobsleigh and became a push athlete for well-known Russian bobsledder Dmitry Abramovich, then when he missed out on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi he switched sports once again to rugby, joining Krasny Yar, although he did not play against Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup in 2017.