The very fact that Paul Turner admits to being 35 suggests that he is considerably more elderly than that. But, irrespective of the fact that Sale went down to their third successive league defeat, it was Turner who stole the show with a wit and subtlety that no other could match.
It was due almost entirely to him that Sale, critically short of key players through injury and suspension, stayed in the game until the final whistle, although by that time the strength and experience of the Wasps pack, combined inevitably with Rob Andrew's reliable goal-kicking, had subdued Sale's challenge.
It is a dismal reflection on the present state of the game that the two most enterprising sides of last season could contrive a meagre two tries between them yesterday, both scored by forwards, but it was Turner's hypnotic power which lifted the play from the all-pervasive grip of mediocrity.
Deftness of touch, swaggering arrogance and unlimited time are the hallmarks of class that Turner liberally demonstrated yesterday. Scarcely a ball was wasted until, that is, it reached less capable hands, of which unfortunately there are far too many in this present Sale side.
His drop goal - struck off balance with his left foot - and a defensive kick under pressure floated into the Wasps 22 were acts of sheer impertinence which only a master craftsman could contemplate. He was admirably supported by Rob Liley who kicked five penalties from five attempts, but without genuine ball-winners up front there was a limit to what they could achieve.
Wasps are not themselves renowned for the quality of their line-out play, but yesterday their two converted flankers, Dean Ryan and Matt Greenwood, enjoyed an afternoon of real domination. In the scrums, Sale were remorselessly ground down by the superior skills of the Wasps front row.
Neither side was helped in their endeavours to play open rugby by the deteriorating weather conditions and the over-zealous refereeing of Stuart Piercy, who gave an early indication of his intentions by twice blowing up for a squint put-in at the scrummage.
That, we thought, had gone out with baggy shorts, leather studs and amateurism. He was quite right, of course, and the problem as always is to find a proper balance between the rigid application of the laws and the utilitarian principle of the greatest enjoyment for the greatest number. With a total of 26 penalties in the match, the goal-kickers were never short of fodder. Liley's five penalties were matched by three from Andrew, who also dropped two goals.
Wasps' tries, both from short range, were scored by Ryan and Peter Scrivener, who continues to make steady progress at No 8. There will, though, be some questions asked about the quality of Wasps' midfield defence which several times early in the match opened up to permit the Sale centres Jos Baxendell and Graham Higginbottom free passage. But the sheer surprise of finding themselves in such a position appears to have had a paralysing effect on mind and body, and on both occasions the chance was lost.
Little wonder that Turner shook his head in bewilderment and disbelief. He played the game when centres were supposed to make breaks, but he, like them, is a dying breed. Sale recognise that he cannot go on for ever. He has been sitting on the bench for the last couple of weeks with a groin injury that is as much tactical as anything else, enabling the club to check out his likely successors.
The fact is that he is irreplaceable, and without him Sale would seem to have little hope of First Division survival.
Sale: R Riley; J Mallinder (capt), J Baxendell, G Higginbottom, M Appleson; P Turner, C Saverimutto; A Yates, S Diamond, A Smith, D Baldwin, D Erskine, D O'Grady, N Ashurst (P Hewitt, 19-21), A MacFarlane (P Hewitt, 63).
Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, D Hopley, A James, S Roiser; R Andrew, S Bates; N Popplewell, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), L Dallaglio, M White, P Scrivener.
Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).Reuse content