Cardiff - Rob Howley will become the caretaker head coach of Six Nations champions Wales on their upcoming tour of Australia as Warren Gatland recovers from an accident suffered in his native New Zealand.
Gatland, tipped to be the British and Irish Lions coach when they tour Australia in 2013, was left with both his legs in plaster after falling off a ladder at his home in New Zealand earlier this month.
Now his long-serving deputy Howley, the former Wales scrum-half, 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," according to a Welsh Rugby Union statement issued Thursday.
Doctors have ruled out a return to Wales for Gatland in time for the warm-up international against the Barbarians and the WRU said the latest medical advice he is unlikely to have recovered sufficiently to take charge of Wales in Australia before the first Test in Brisbane on June 9.
If Gatland recovers in time to join the squad for the final two Tests, Howley will remain in caretaker charge, with the New Zealander "playing a supportive role," the WRU said.
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: "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."
With Lions officials having said they would like their coach to be free of international commitments ahead of their series against the Wallabies, this tour gives Wales the chance of experiencing what life without Gatland would be like.
Lewis added: "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 said: "I will give 100 percent 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."
Gatland added: "I have talked through all the potential scenarios with Rob Howley and Roger Lewis, but the medical advice is clear and cannot be ignored.
"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.
"I know Rob will be his own man as caretaker coach, but he and I share a similar vision about the international game so the players and coaches will know what is expected of them."
Wales play the Barbarians on June 2 in Cardiff ahead of a three-Test tour of Australia.