Rob Howley has reportedly accepted an apology from Sean O’Brien after the Leinster man’s controversial remarks about his coaching on the Lions tour to New Zealand.

O’Brien went public with claims that Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell sidelined attack coach Howley during the series in New Zealand during the summer, with head coach Warren Gatland later admitting he was “really, really hurt” by O’Brien’s criticism. But the Daily Telegraph has reported that Howley and O’Brien have spoken to clear the air.

“I exchanged WhatsApps with Sean and we finally spoke on the phone last Friday. We talked for a good 20 minutes, he apologised and now we move on,” said Howley “I have the greatest respect for Sean O’Brien and I thought he was outstanding on the Lions tour. His comments are tomorrow’s fish and chip paper and it will all soon be forgotten.

“I was obviously disappointed and felt that the forum we had been a part of for seven weeks on tour would have been a better opportunity to raise those comments to the coaching team or with me.

“New Zealand was very different to the two previous tours and the midweek games challenged us as a group of coaches far differently. Having worked with Johnny and Owen in Australia, any sensible coach would have used their experience and included them in the decision making process.

“From my perspective, we tried to empower the players. I had the opportunity to sit down with Owen, Johnny and Dan Biggar in the lead-up to the tour when their clubs got knocked out in the semi-finals and we were able to put in place a lot of foundations.

“We only had two coaching days within the week on tour. When you look at the preparation time and what we achieved, I’m very proud as a coach to come away with what we did.”

Meanwhile Warren Gatland has hinted he would be open to leading the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2021. Two weeks ago Gatland ruled out taking charge in four years’ time, stating: “I’m done. I hated the tour. I did. I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand.”

But the 54-year-old has relaxed that stance and admitted he could be tempted to complete the set of tours, having led the Lions to victory in Australia in 2013 and helped his team claim a dramatic draw against the All Blacks.

“It’s a hard job to turn down and walk away from,” Gatland told the Mail on Sunday. “I made those comments about not wanting to do it again because I was pretty hurt. As far as me coaching the Lions again, never say never.”

Gatland also responded to Sean O’Brien’s attack, adding: “If he can look himself in the mirror and say, ‘I was the most professional person on tour, on and off the field, in New Zealand’, in terms of the way he prepared himself, then I think his points would be more valid. I was disappointed with his comments. I thought him coming out and saying we should have won 3-0 was pretty disrespectful to New Zealand. That’s where he lost his credibility.

“He came out and he was critical but what was his solution? There was nothing. It was words without a solution. If you are going to come out and say something, give us what the answer is.”


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