Rob Howley admits he is facing a “significant” return to the Test arena when coaching Canada against his native Wales on Saturday.
The former Wales scrum-half and long-time assistant coach will be aiming to mastermind a victory over his countrymen at the Principality Stadium this weekend.
Howley’s first Test match as assistant to Kingsley Jones will also be his first at international level since leaving his role with Wales during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Howley has now served a nine-month suspension for breaching World Rugby betting regulations, and has previously opened up on the wider impact of his sister’s death in 2011.
Now the 50-year-old is ready to return to Test match coaching, and he conceded the fact his first match comes against Wales certainly carries extra resonance.
“If someone had told me 18 months, two years ago, that my first game back would have been against Wales, you couldn’t write it really,” said Howley.
“It is significant. I’ve been involved with the Arrows back in Toronto in January, February and March, and basically I’ve been involved at games, but this is the first international game back.
“It is significant for me, and for my family; I’ve been out of the game, I love the game, I’m very passionate and a very passionate Welsh person.
“I like to think I can add value and I’ve enjoyed working with all the coaches in Canada, and particularly the players.
“The players are on a pathway towards the Rugby World Cup, and I’m just so happy to be back involved in the game, and to be back in international rugby.”
Former Wales team-mates Jones and Howley will have decisions to make about whether to sing the national anthems in Cardiff this weekend.
Former Sale, Russia and London Welsh coach Jones also expects there will be an emotional personal element to Saturday’s encounter.
But the 52-year-old knows full well both he and Howley will quickly set aside any individual thoughts as Canada look to kick-start preparations for 2023 World Cup qualification fixtures in September.
“I’ve coached against England before with a couple of countries,” said Jones.
“But to actually face Wales, I thought about it for the first time last week when I was asked which anthem I would sing.
“’Either both or neither’, that’s what my answer was.
“I think it’s something I haven’t given a lot of thought to yet.
“But it will be great to stand in front in that stadium, to be there with Canada is fantastic.
“We’re not looking at Wales, we’re just looking at ourselves and that’s the genuine truth.
“We’re at the stage where we’ve just got to get our stuff right.
“There’s been no real chat about the Welsh, even when the team came out yesterday.
“We know we’ll face a big challenge, but we’ve got to get ourselves in order.
“So that’s the way we’re looking at it, exciting, totally focused on our team and that’s why we haven’t really thought too much about the occasion.”