Warren Gatland admits it will be “difficult” to include Rob Howley in his British and Irish Lions coaching team after his former Wales assistant’s suspension for betting breaches.
Howley was banned for 18 months – nine of them suspended – in 2019 for betting on matches, including Wales games.
He left Wales’ 2019 World Cup campaign as a result and returned to rugby last month as Canada assistant coach.
“I’m delighted for him he’s been appointed with Canada,” said Gatland.
“We were great mates and I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him as a coach.
“The last thing you want is people bringing up the past and taking away from what your preparation and focus is for a Lions tour.
“That makes it a little bit difficult because it’s the last thing I and someone like Rob would want to have happen.”
As well as being Gatland’s attack coach throughout his 12 years as Wales boss, Howley also fulfilled that role on the past two Lions tours.
Gatland was head coach on both occasions – the victorious 2013 tour of Australia and the 2017 drawn series in New Zealand – and the New Zealander will be in charge for next summer’s trip to South Africa.
Howley, who was also attack coach under Sir Ian McGeechan in South Africa in 2009, would have been in a strong position to make a fourth Lions tour as a coach.
However, Gatland’s comments seem to suggest that would now be unlikely for the former Wales scrum-half, who played for the Lions on two tours in 1997 and 2001.
In the wake of his ban from the sport after he had placed 363 bets on 1,163 matches over four years, Howley apologised for the breaches as he “battled demons” in the wake of his sister’s death.
He had been due to leave his role as Wales assistant coach after the 2019 World Cup and was linked with coaching Italy before the betting breaches were revealed.
Since being eligible to return to rugby, Howley was linked with a return to one of his former clubs, Wasps, before his appointment with Canada, a role he will combine with being a consultant for the Toronto Arrows.
“I think it’s great for him he’s back in the game and he gets a chance to get out of the UK and re-establish himself with Canada until the next World Cup,” Gatland added.
“He’s an outstanding coach, understands the mistakes he’s made, and hopefully he does really well.”