WHEN Paul Turner was sent off at Orrell last weekend, it was a rare blot on the impressive landscape he has been detailing as coach and stand-off at Sale. And it was a mistake anyway. Turner was nowhere near Dewi Morris when he got thumped, the referee's decision was soon reversed and Turner was back on the field immediately. Another comeback to add to the collection.
His return to the Sale line-up, which he saw promoted to National League One last season, has been as impressive as any. His two years there have been blighted by injury, but this season his nimble hands and active mind have guided Sale's open game-plan with such skill that Stuart Barnes last week named him as the best stand-off in the country. Was he surprised? 'I never had doubts in my ability. But when I left Wales in 1992, I think a few people down there thought I was past my sell-by date.'
Turner is often looking over his shoulder at Wales. He has the Welsh papers sent up to him in Manchester and he talks to Glen Webbe and Mark Ring twice a week. Knowledge accumulation is his game and it goes way back to his boyhood diet of Barry John and Gareth Edwards. The side that has influenced him most? 'The famous London Welsh side of the late Sixties. The John Dawes, JPR, John Taylor type side.' His most influential coaches? 'Keith Westwood at Newbridge: freedom of expression was his mark. And Tony Faulkner at Newport, who taught me about discipline and professionalism in the amateur way.'
The product is channelled into his proteges at Sale who, he believes, will survive in League One only by innovation: always running the ball close to the opposition with plenty of dummy runners, like the Wallabies or many rugby league teams. Success has been moderate to date, but the style has won its admirers. In his homeland, no doubt, too - another Welshman gone north to the principality's loss.
Turner, who won three caps in 1989, however, can summon little sympathy for the national side as his emotions extend instead towards Steve Healey, his old half-back partner at Newbridge, who died in a building accident 18 days ago. 'Welsh club rugby is said to be having problems, but I don't see them. My friend dying, that's a problem, a 30-year-old with a family. It puts it in perspective.'
BARNES versus Andrew. The former stand-off is retired, but the rivalry continues in print. Barnes made the first move last month in his autobiography, Smelling of Roses. 'I have always considered myself the truer fly-half,' he wrote, criticising Andrew's style: 'The only way the ball reached the wing was via mispasses from so deep a position that three defenders could arrive on the wing at the same time as the ball. In such a deep position, Rob inevitably made very few glaring errors and 'reliability' prospered.' Andrew countered, but with more humility, in A Game and a Half, his own tome out this week, writing of 'the constant sight of Barnes in my rear-view mirror' and, on the announcement of the 1992 Lions squad: 'Was no one to rid me of this meddlesome man?' This is as strong as Andrew gets, though he claims victory as early as page 2: 'A glance at the record books reveals the true extent of what has been a crushingly one-sided contest.'
IT MAY NOT be as peaceful as they were expecting, but England's World Cup hotel base in South Africa will certainly be cheaper. The World Cup organisers last week insisted on equality in the accommodation that teams will be using, which means that Carling and Co will forfeit the calm of a five-star luxury resort for more modest surroundings in the centre of Durban. The Holiday Inn on Marine Parade - 390 rand ( pounds 69) for a twin room, two restaurants, snakepark nearby - looks the most likely venue (Rugby World Cup Ltd won't confirm this, but it does have a sizeable block-booking there). What England will be saving by withdrawing from the intended Beverly Hills Sun, 15 minutes out of town, is R410 per twin and R0.4 per bottle of beer. Where they will be missing out, though, is on an outdoor pool just yards away from the Indian Ocean, deep sea fishing and horse-riding facilities. And for the more amorous of the England squad, there will be disappointment in the venue change as the Holiday Inn does not match the Sun's boast of a 'boardroom overlooking the Indian Ocean which is ideal for small weddings'.
TWO old Welsh greats went head to head last weekend: Merv Davies versus Phil Bennett, coach of Hendy versus president of Felinfoel, two teams promoted last season to Welsh Division Five. 'I certainly didn't want to talk to him after it,' said Bennett, whose charges were on the wrong end of a 21-15 away defeat. Davies, though, was happy to rub it in: 'The only reason that Felinfoel are in Division Five is because we let them beat us at the end of last season]' 'I'm looking forward to his lot coming back here,' said Bennett, 'so I can save a bit of face.' The duel resumes on 11 February.