Emotional springtime for Turner: Rugby Union

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The Independent Online
For a clutch of young men around the country it is a certainty that this spring their fancy has turned rightly to thoughts of promotion, play- offs and places in Europe. For one man in particular, Bedford's player- coach Paul Turner, there will be a jumble of emotions.

This time last year the mercurial outside-half was helping Sale establish themselves as one of the top five clubs in the country; today his mind is set on ensuring that Bedford reinforce their claim for a place in the Courage League First Division next season, although there is every chance that the odd thought may stray further north and dwell on what might have been as Sale - Pilkington Cup finalists - continue their challenge for a place in Europe at struggling West Hartlepool.

Turner's immediate concern has to be how to stop a rampant Newcastle side from leaving Goldington Road with both points and a bundle of points.

Rob Andrew's men have amassed 863, which has helped them create a staggering points difference of 656. On the way they have run in 127 tries, although Bedford are no slouches with 89 touchdowns. The Falcons begin at a disadvantage today, they are without their captain and No 8, Dean Ryan, who has damaged knee ligaments. Ross Nesdale takes over as captain, his first game in charge although he has led Auckland and New Zealand Universities.

Ryan's place goes to the dynamic Pat Lam, whose confrontation with his fellow Western Samoan Junior Paramore promises to be cataclysmic rather than Pacific. Andrew is wary of his opponents, who currently hold second place in the table and are virtually guaranteed a play-off place, but who are looking for automatic promotion.

The first meeting this season resulted in a 49-12 win for Newcastle at Kingston Park but Andrew is determined that his side will not slip up. "We have to be careful not to waste all the good work of last week," Newcastle's director of rugby said yesterday. "And Bedford have improved since that game."

A division above, Sale are strengthened by the return of the former England scrum-half Dewi Morris, rested for the win over Bath, and their player- coach John Mitchell, who missed the first hour of the midweek triumph. Bath, who face a trophyless year for the first time since 1988, have to travel to Loftus Road tomorrow where they take on the leaders, Wasps.

The London club have pulled out of negotiations with the France prop Christian Califano and denied reports that they want to sign the centre Thomas Castaignede. "We have never spoken to him," Geoff Huckstep, the Wasps chief executive, said.

The cluster of clubs hungry for a top-four place includes Saracens but if they are to join the elite next season they will have to overcome tough opposition in the run-in, beginning with Gloucester at Kingsholm today.

n Brive have failed to sign Martin Johnson. The French European Cup holders contacted the England lock's agent but were told he was out of their price range. Johnson is believed to be earning pounds 120,000 from Leicester, pounds 70,000 from England and pounds 20,000 from the Lions, and he has kept his job as a bank official. "When I told them, they were a bit taken aback," Johnson's agent, Darren Grewcock, said. "They said it was more than their budget for next season."