ROB Howley has been appointed as Wales' caretaker head coach for the summer internationals against the Barbarians and Australia to allow Warren Gatland to recuperate fully from injuries suffered in a domestic accident.
Gatland, who led Wales to the 2012 Six Nations title earlier this year and is the overwhelming favourite to lead the British and Irish Lions in their tour of Australia in the summer of 2013, suffered a foot injury after falling from a ladder at his home in New Zealand and will temporarily hand control of the team to assistant coach Howley.
The Welsh Rugby Union said in a statement: "Rob Howley will have full control of all aspects of team preparation and selection as he takes charge of the existing management and coaching staff with immediate effect.
"Gatland has declared his full approval of the decision which was taken during discussions with WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis about his prognosis for recuperation and recovery over the weeks ahead."
Gatland was cleaning windows at his family beach house on Waihi Beach when he lost his balance and fell around 10 feet on to concrete, taking the full impact on his heels. He suffered multiple fractures to the right heel bone and also a fracture to the left heel bone.
He is yet to undergo surgery as his injuries are given time to heal, but the WRU say Gatland has been advised that the injury to his right foot is severe and that he will not be able to bear weight on it by early June.
Wales face the Barbarians on June 2 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff before embarking on a three-Test series away to Australia, with the first Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 9.
Gatland said: "Although I am devastated to be away from the action I am delighted that we have someone of Rob's calibre to take charge in my absence.
"I have talked through all the potential scenarios with Rob Howley and Roger Lewis, but the medical advice is clear and cannot be ignored.
"I will not be ready to take charge of Wales for the international against the Barbarians and if I recover enough to get to Australia during June I am still unlikely to be mobile enough to play a full coaching role.
"It has been difficult to accept that advice, but it just makes me more determined than ever to get back into the driving seat with Wales later on this summer as we prepare for an Autumn series which includes games against New Zealand and Australia."
WRU chief executive Lewis added: "Warren has taken the appropriate medical advice and agrees that appointing Rob as caretaker coach in his absence is the best way forward for our Grand Slam winning squad.
"Rob, Warren and I have talked this through thoroughly and it makes absolute sense to ensure the chain of command and authority levels are recognised.
"Warren can now concentrate on getting back to robust health before taking back full control of Wales to continue the great work he has already achieved and Rob can take this opportunity to develop as a coach at the highest level.
"The appointment of Rob Howley as caretaker coach is deeply significant for our long term succession planning. Rob has the total support of all of us at the WRU. This is an opportunity for us all in these unforeseen circumstances."
Howley was one of Gatland's first appointments when he took charge of the Welsh coaching set-up in January 2008.
Born in Bridgend, he won 59 caps for Wales, captaining his country on 22 occasions.
Talking about his new appointment, Howley said: "I will give 100 per cent of my effort to ensuring we are fully prepared to meet the challenges and take the great opportunities which lie ahead in this summer series.
"We will be working to secure victory against the Barbarians after the defeat we suffered last year and the Tests in Australia are an opportunity for us to deliver a win in the southern hemisphere.
"Along with the rest of the coaching team I am immensely proud to have been offered this opportunity and we will give our all until Warren is ready to take full control again."