WHEN Warren Gatland and his Wales management team meticulously planned the calendar through to Saturday, November 2 they would have known the importance of being able to adapt.

The eight coaches that have led teams to World Cup glory will stress the importance of preparation, but also that things never go to plan.

Gatland would have plotted for certain circumstances – last autumn ahead of the Scotland Test he threw a curveball to disrupt team run preparations by manufacturing a late bus departure – but nobody would have expected this week’s drama.

A coach (or player) having to leave Japan for an emergency might well have been considered a possibility, after all the mantra under Gatland has always been family first.

The man second in command being ordered home certainly wouldn’t have been considered.

Wales have prided themselves on being a tight group with their bond shown by the way that they battle for each other in defence.

Players and coaches have grown closer together over this World Cup cycle, so its natural that the departure of Rob Howley will have an impact. His colleagues will have concerns for their friend after such a crushing sporting blow.

Yet the relief is that the loss of a key figure has happened before a ball has been kicked in Japan and it should not be terminal to Wales hopes.

Talk of it galvanising them is odd – this is the World Cup and there won’t have been any shortage of motivation anyway – but it won’t derail them.

Wales proved during the Six Nations that they are a resilient bunch, beating Scotland the week after a tumultuous week of Ospreys-Scarlets merger talk.

They will focus on the task at hand, Georgia on Monday and a rapid turnaround to Australia a week on Sunday.

Gatland will guide them and shoulder the responsibility, asking some players to show leadership and taking the burden off others.

The squad must tap into those resilience reserves again in the coming weeks to ensure that they emerge from Pool D, because qualification and not placings is what matters in this World Cup.

It is a genuinely wide-open tournament and I believe that seven teams – Wales, Ireland, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and France – have the ability to win three knockout games.

That sentence may well prompt some Scottish fury (sorry mum…) but in my eyes the Del Amitri song ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’, recorded for the 1998 football World Cup, is appropriate.

I can see Gregor Townsend’s men beating Ireland this weekend and maybe causing a quarter-final upset but I can’t see them winning three successive knockout fixtures.

But, unless Japan shock Scotland or Ireland, there won’t be any ‘routine’ quarter-final games and plotting easier routes in sporting tournaments is a mug’s game.

Perhaps a couple of years ago avoiding New Zealand would have been wonderful but while the All Blacks remain the team to beat, the resurgence of the Springboks makes any benefit minimal.

Wales just have to deal with Georgia’s grunt up front and avoid a Fijian ambush to make it to the last eight – who cares if that’s as Pool D winners or as runners-up to the Australians?

Gatland’s team are European champions and have ended their inferiority complex against the southern hemisphere big guns (five wins from the last six meetings with South Africa, finally getting over the line against the Wallabies in the autumn of 2018).

They know that they have more cutting edge than four years ago when they really should have beaten the Australians and Boks, they know that they have greater squad depth to cope with bangs, they know that they have a big-game boss.

Wales may have lost their momentum in the warm-ups against England and Ireland but it’s about safely negotiating the next four games to ensure that they are in Oita on the weekend of October 19, be it as winners on the Saturday or runners-up on the Sunday.

Next week there will be plenty of talk about the importance of beating Australia but the battle for the trophy really begins in the last eight.

By then Wales should be over the shock over losing Howley and his replacement Stephen Jones will have settled in his role.

Anybody will be able to beat anybody in the quarters, the Six Nations champions just have to ensure they make it there in good health then anything is possible.