Rugby Union: Turner's exit deals Bedford another blow

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The Independent Online
FRANK WARREN'S economically challenged Bedford have become well acquainted with the trials and tribulations of crisis management over the last few months, but the latest blow to morale at Goldington Road threatens to push the club over the edge. Paul Turner, the Blues' esteemed director of coaching, disappeared through the exit door last night, leaving the players worried about their next team talk as well as their next pay cheque.

According to Richard Hart, a club spokesman, Turner left by mutual consent. Warren discussed the former Welsh stand-off's position with Geoff Cooke, his chief executive, yesterday, after which the latter confirmed a parting of the ways. "It's a huge loss," Cooke admitted.

"We will make an announcement later in the week about the coaching, but we are not short of interim options," Hart said. "Geoff was regarded as one of the finest coaches in the world when he managed England a few years back and we also have Rudi Straeuli, the former Springbok World Cup player. Rudi has effectively been coaching our forwards for some time, so he has plenty to offer."

Turner, now 39, joined Bedford in August 1996 after falling out with Sale. An inventive and occasionally brilliant player - he retired only last May, after guiding the club to the Allied Dunbar Premiership Two title and promotion to the top flight - he was equally bold in expressing his opinions. He repeatedly aired his frustrations over Bedford's dire financial problems, which have resulted largely from Warren's legal battle with Don King, the American boxing promoter.

The Bedford players recently threatened to strike after a long delay in wage payments and Turner sympathised publicly with their plight. Only last Sunday, Warren warned his squad that he would take strong action against anyone continuing to air his grievances through the newspapers.

Just for once, Turner was keeping his lip securely buttoned last night, stating only that he had been "privileged" to work with Cooke and the players. He will not be short of alternative employment offers and may even find himself working with the Welsh national squad under Graham Henry, the new coaching supremo from New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Brian Baister, the chairman of the Rugby Football Union, yesterday challenged England's leading professional clubs to put up or shut up over the formation of a new British league. Thoroughly cheesed off by the refusal of English First Division Rugby, the umbrella organisation representing the 14 Allied Dunbar Premiership One teams, to send a delegate to today's meeting of the Six Nations working party in Manchester, Baister was even less amused by weekend comments attributed to Mike Smith, the Saracens chief executive, and Sir John Hall, the Newcastle owner, who both appeared dismiss any prospect of agreement.

"I am disappointed that EFDR clubs do not see it as their role to be represented at the meeting," the chairman said. "They must take the consequences of not being there to put their views forward.

"We will continue to work closely with those clubs who show they want to work with the RFU. I need to be told by EFDR precisely who speaks for them and what their aspirations might be and to that end, I intend to send out a letter to all 28 First and Second Division clubs asking whether the comments that appeared over the weekend are indeed the policy of their organisation."

Baister's words were chosen with extreme care. The chairman knows that Sir John in particular angered a number of senior EFDR colleagues with his intemperate demands for exclusive club control of any new cross-border competition and he rightly suspects that the majority of clubs are now suffering from the effects of dispute fatigue.

Doug Ash, the outgoing chief executive of EFDR, insisted yesterday that a the concept of a British league was "squarely on the club agenda" and emphasised that both Smith and Hall had expressed personal opinions rather than any agreed policy. "We have set up our own working party and they have been briefed to produce a firm set of proposals at our board meeting on 22 October," he said.

"Assuming that those proposals are ratified, we will put them to the union in the hope of moving jointly towards a solution."

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