Turner keen to draw on a fresh canvas

One of the most gifted players and coaches of his generation finds a new life at fortress Kingsholm, rugby's heartland
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The Independent Online

Not everybody feels at home at Kingsholm, least of all visiting teams, but Paul Turner likes the place, always has. "It's been a happy hunting ground for me," he said. "Whenever I played here I seemed to do quite well. Had things been different I might have joined Gloucester 20 years ago."

At the age of 42 Turner appears to have finally hung up the boots that have taken him to more outfits than his contemporaries, either in the amateur era or professional. Indeed, he has had almost as many clubs as Ian Woosnam on a bad day at the Open. Turner has been around, but there's a lot more to him than simply being a journeyman.

A brilliant playmaker when the Welsh fly-half production line was at high capacity and quality control was guaranteed, Turner has had spells with Newbridge (twice), Newport, London Welsh, Sale, Bedford, Saracens, Rugby and now Gloucester. It would be tempting fate to say he has come full circle. "I'm my own man," he says, which means that if he's employed to do a job he expects to be allowed to get on with it. His way. Few of the departures were amicable. At Sale he was replaced by John Mitchell whom Turner was responsible for recruiting. Mitchell is now coach of the All Blacks.

"Everybody has got to be seen to be accountable but at the end it's what happens on the field that counts and the coaches are the ones with their heads on the block," Turner said. Andy Keast, who joined Gloucester towards the end of last season, left at the beginning of this season after falling out with Kingsholm's director of rugby, the mercurial Frenchman Philippe Saint-André.

A month ago Turner got a phone call out of the blue from Saint-André: would he like to be the backs coach at Gloucester with the prospect of working with a cosmopolitan line-up reinforced with the arrival from rugby league of Henry Paul? Turner, who signed a two-year contract, was at Kingsholm last week for the visit of Harlequins and watched the match not from the dugout but from behind the posts. "You get a better aspect of what's happening. The view from the dugout is too low. Although we were down to 14 men we won the second half 19-0 and if I had any doubts about joining Gloucester the passion of the crowd helped to dispel them. With the Shed in full cry and everybody wearing a Gloucester jersey it gives us a 10-point start. I understand the desire of the people here. Whenever I played well at Kingsholm the crowd were appreciative. Since joining I've had letters and phone calls."

The coaching staff includes David Ellis (defence) and Laurent Seigne (forwards). "We've now got a good coaching structure," said Ken Nottage, managing director of a club that has been re-invented under the financial clout of Tom Walkinshaw. "Paul can help to get the full potential out of the players and leave Phillipe to concentrate on the short- and long-term structure."

Turner, however, has heard this before. Three years ago, after leaving stricken Bedford, he was signed by Mark Evans, then Saracens' director of rugby, to coach the backs. With François Pienaar as player-coach, Evans remarked: "I want to emphasise that Saracens now have the strongest coaching team in the country." Within six months Turner had gone.

"It was the right place but the wrong time. It's a great club with a fantastic owner in Nigel Wray but there was a lack of accountability. I didn't feel Saracens understood what they wanted me for. It was a case of last in first out. I've had more out of the Gloucester backs in two weeks than I managed with Saracens in six months. There was a French fly-half, a New Zealander and a couple of South Africans and the only guy I could talk to was Ryan Constable." While Constable subsequently joined a rash of departures from Saracens, Turner started a coaching consultancy company and last season found himself playing for the Rugby Lions. They had been relegated to Division Two the previous season but with investment from the businessman David Owen and Turner at fly-half they won their last 12 games to gain promotion.

"I was very pleased about that and when Gloucester approached me I left Rugby with their blessing. They can be a match for anyone in National League One but it depends on how far they want to go. The idea of working again in the Premiership with quality players was attractive and Philippe convinced me I was the coach he was looking for. After the Saracens episode I emphasised to him that he had to understand why he wanted me.

"It's been a promising start. I think I'll be good for Philippe and he'll be good for me. As long as we communicate I think it'll work fine. Only time will tell. I'm happy with the way the players have reacted. They understand where I'm coming from and appear to like what I do." Today Turner will be behind the posts at the Madejski Stadium in Reading where Gloucester play London Irish.

The arrival of Henry Paul, who has signed a four-year contract, looks like coinciding with the departure of the Italian international Christian Stoica, who has been given permission by Saint-André to talk to Castres.

"Jason Robinson has shown how much hard work has to be done and he is something of a mentor for me," Paul said, after arriving at a press conference two and a half hours late. Walkinshaw was not amused. During the celebrations that followed the Bradford Bulls' victory in the Super League Grand Final, Paul loaned his car to a friend who failed to return it. Inside the car was his mobile phone.

Paul, who is living in Cheltenham, can play fly-half, centre or full-back. The current pivot is Ludovic Mercier, whose kicking exploits have prompted Gloucester to raise the height of the posts. "Henry would be a great addition for any club," Turner said. "When he had that little spell at Bath I don't think they understood why they wanted him. It was a bit of a farce. Nobody got anything out of it.

"I understand his game. It's similar to the way I tried to play, although more physical. He's a superb physical specimen. He kicks the ball well, has great balance and creates space. I'm hoping the people around him buy into his strengths. In league he was defensively sound and that's good enough for me."

Turner lives in St Albans, a legacy of his time at Saracens. "I'd like to move closer. If everything's OK I'm hoping to stay at Gloucester longer than two years." The question is can the odd couple work together at a club where people have been here today and gone tomorrow? "Paul has an excellent record and a lot of technical ability," Saint-André said. "He has a personality that will fit in well. I have a good feeling about him."