London - Former Wales assistant coach Rob Howley has been banned from all involvement in rugby for 18 months, nine of which are suspended, after breaching anti-corruption and betting regulations, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) said on Monday.
Howley, who worked under now-departed head coach Warren Gatland, returned home from Japan shortly before the World Cup began in September after the WRU became aware of possible wrongdoing.
It was found that, over a four-year period from November 2015 to September 2019, Howley placed 363 bets involving 1 163 rugby matches with three bookmakers through accounts held under his own name.
Of the bets, 24 were placed on "connected events", some of which involved matches in which Wales were participating. On two occasions he bet on unnamed Wales players scoring tries.
"Howley was withdrawn from his duties with Wales ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup as soon as the WRU became aware of a potential breach of regulations and an investigation was immediately launched," said a statement from the governing body.
"The suspension is backdated to the time of his initial withdrawal from the World Cup, on the 16th September 2019, meaning Howley would be free to return to the game on or after 16th June 2020."
In the written decision released by the WRU, it is revealed that the former Wales and Lions scrum-half accepted the charge "without qualification".
The alarm was first raised when WRU policy and integrity manager Jeremy Rogers was contacted by an employee of Betway, who said that Howley had placed bets on Wales games.
At a September meeting to explain the process for the investigation it was noted that Howley was "visibly upset" and said: "I'm putting my hands up. If I was being evasive, I wouldn't have used my work mobile phone and email account."
It emerged that he gambled on a Wales player to be the first try scorer in the 25-7 Six Nations victory over Ireland in March, but the 49-year-old stated it was part of a treble bet that fell in line with his normal recreational betting activity. He also backed another player to score a try.
When the unnamed players were interviewed they denied any knowledge the bets had been placed on them, with Howley supporting their testimony.
Howley conceded he knew betting on matches involving Wales was a breach of World Rugby anti-corruption and betting regulations.
The WRU found Howley made an overall loss of £4 000 during the time period under scrutiny and described his activity as a "hobby", while adding "we use the word hobby with some caution because it seems that a trigger for Mr Howley's betting activity was a family tragedy involving the death of his sister".
The former Wales captain, who has the right to appeal against the decision, had been part of ex-head coach Gatland's coaching team since 2008.
His departure from the Wales camp in Japan threw the Six Nations' champions' World Cup preparations into disarray but they went on to reach the semi-finals, where they lost to South Africa.
Howley enjoyed a glittering playing career, making 59 appearances for Wales and captaining his country on 22 occasions. He also played two Tests for the British and Irish Lions, subsequently joining them in a coaching capacity.