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Home » Rugby » What happened next to Paul Turner, the man shown the door by a poisonous Dragons board

What happened next to Paul Turner, the man shown the door by a poisonous Dragons board

Eight years on from his spell as Dragons coach coming to an abrupt end, Paul Turner is on the verge of one of the biggest achievements of his career.

The former Wales fly-half is just one point away from guiding little known Ampthill into the second tier of English rugby.

Rugby correspondent Simon Thomas caught up with Turner to talk about his time at the Dragons and the rugby fairytale he is conjuring up in the Bedfordshire woodlands…

Each weekend, when his duties with Ampthill are done, Paul Turner seeks out two rugby results.

First, he checks on the fortunes of Newbridge, the club where he began his senior playing career.

And then he casts his eye towards the Guinness PRO14 to find out how the Dragons have got on.

It’s proof that he remains very much a proud man of Gwent, despite the unhappy way his six year stint as coach of the Rodney Parade region ended.

Back in early 2011, Turner was first suspended, pending a hearing into disciplinary matters, and then two weeks later came his departure, with the classic “left by mutual consent” statement being wheeled out.

Looking back with hindsight, the 59-year-old now thinks it was probably the right moment to go, but admits it was hard to take at the time.

“I did feel disillusioned, I felt I was hard done by,” he says.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to go out, but it was probably the right timing because I was working for what was a poisonous board at that time.

“I felt we always punched above our weight.

“That last season wasn’t particularly good, but it was only the year before we had quite a good season in relative terms and I got coach of the year.

“I suppose my time didn’t need to be up. I had another year on my contract.

“But I looked on from afar the following year and it was probably one of the worst seasons in their history and then it got worse and worse.

“So I was probably better out of it. I probably served my time.

“I still look back and they are always the first result, along with Newbridge, that I look at on a Saturday.



Paul Turner pictured at Rodney Parade when he was coach of the Dragons

“I have still got a lot of friends within the organisation.”

Turner has looked on with particular interest this past couple of years following the WRU takeover of the Dragons, a chain of events he supported.

“I was sort of rooting for everything that has gone on, with the Union taking over at that time, because it looked like doomsday at one stage,” he said.

“I think it was the right thing. I fully, from afar, back that.

“I think you always get problems in Gwent, knowing my club, Newbridge, and clubs all around that area.

“Even when I was at the Dragons, I felt people really wouldn’t support us.

“It’s very tribal, isn’t it? A lot of people don’t see anything outside their own club in Gwent.

“Maybe it’s like that in a lot of Wales, I don’t know.

 



Turner, then in his Newport days, appeals to referee Ken Rowlands as a try is awarded to Cardiff wing Adrian Hadley during the 1986 Schweppes Cup final

“I think, in general, people in Gwent do support the Dragons, but actually going down and watching and swelling the crowd is another thing, isn’t it?”

While he’s been living in England since his departure from Rodney Parade, Turner has remained in touch with the Welsh scene in recent years through his scouting work for the WRU.

“My role is to try and get Welsh-qualified players back into Wales,” he said.

“But to try and get them in at this time is very difficult because the regions are saying they don’t know what’s happening.

“That’s the difficulty I am finding. I have been trying to get a couple of players back in over the last two or three months, but you can’t make an offer because the regions haven’t got the money and they are still trying to keep their own.”

 

As well as still doing his bit for Welsh rugby, he also runs his own company – Paul Turner Sport – running coaching camps and working with schools.

But his main focus is very much his role as head coach of Ampthill.

And he’s doing a very fine job there, with his team on the verge of promotion from National League One to the Championship.

He first linked up with the Bedfordshire club soon after finishing with the Dragons, helping out former Wales prop Stuart Evans on the coaching front for the remainder of that season.



Paul Turner during his time at Wasps

Then, after spending a year with Wasps, he returned to Ampthill as head coach and the march up the leagues began.

“When I started out, we were in Midlands 1 and going to places like Sutton Coldfield, Sandbach, Bourneville,” he recalls.

“We have gone through three divisions to get where we are now. It’s a great story.

“It’s obviously got a lot more serious as time has gone on. We always wanted to find out our level.

“I have been here nearly seven years now and this job is really important to me.

“I am bedded in and feel I am part for the club.

 

“It’s not about proving anything to anyone. I am just proud of what we have done here really.

“You maybe wouldn’t think it, when you walk through the woods to our pitch, but we have some good stuff going on here.

“It’s a great community club. We have got some good rugby fields, some good players and a good system.

“We’ve had a lot of help from our director of rugby, Mark Lavery, who is funding different parts, while the players have been excellent.

“It’s exciting times. Looking ahead, there are plans afoot for us to move to a new stadium within the area.”



Paul Turner during a game against France in the 1989 Five Nations

Ampthill is a market town with a population of just 14,000 and, as Turner says, you have to walk through the woods to get to their 3,000-capacity Dillingham Park ground, an amphitheatre built into the hill, with no stand and no floodlights.

Yet, following last weekend’s bonus point win over Sale, they now need only one point from their final game of the season, away to Loughborough Students, to win the division and gain promotion to the Championship ahead of Old Elthamians, who entertain Rotherham.

“We have gradually gone through the leagues and all of a sudden we could be in the same division as Newcastle, if they go down, Leeds, Cornish Pirates and our local rivals Bedford, my old club,” he said.

“We know it will be a completely different challenge if we get promoted to the Championship.

“We will be up against some very well funded sides.

“It would be tough, but we would embrace that challenge.”

Ampthill have picked up the nickname of Old Tongonians due to the number of players from the Pacific island that Turner has brought in, including prop Soane Tonga’uiha, hooker Aleki Lutui, lock Paino Hehea and former Cardiff Blues back row star Maama Molitika, who is remarkably still going strong at 44.

“I knew Maama from my Harlequins time and from when I was at the Dragons and he was at the Blues,” said the coach.

“He is outstanding. Physically, he is one of our best players and he does a great job.

“Time catches up on most people, but he is still a warrior for us.

“Most of these guys, like Lutui and Hehea, I tried to get when I was at the Dragons.

“Now I have finally got to work with them, just a few years later.”

 

Turner also has a couple of Welsh players on his books in Sid Blackmore – the son of former Wales prop Steve – and second row Henri Williams, the son of Owain Williams, who is on loan from Dragons.

Canadian international full-back James Pritchard, who is retiring at the end of this season, has also proved a valuable figure.

As for Turner, well rugby has taken him to many different places over the last four decades.

His playing career included spells at Newbridge, Newport, Pontypool, Bedford and Sale, where he dazzled with his skills and tactical genius, accumulating hundreds of points along the way, kicking goals with both feet, for good measure.



Turner takes on the English defence in Wales’ 1989 victory over the old enemy

He won three caps for Wales, all of them in 1989, sharing in the 12-9 victory over England at a rain-soaked National Stadium which denied the old enemy the Five Nations title.

After moving into coaching, he worked for Sale, Bedford, Saracens, Gloucester and Harlequins, before returning to Wales in 2005 to take up the Dragons job.

He is very settled in his role in Ampthill, but would he ever consider coming back home to take up a post?

“I don’t know, I am getting older and coaches are getting younger,” he replied.

“Everybody is looking for work and a lot of clubs appoint from within.

“I wouldn’t say no, but I don’t think the role would be the role I had before, which was fighting on all fronts really.

“I’m still involved in Welsh rugby though.

“I have been going down to the regions for the last three years, trying to get players in for them.

“I suppose my heart is in the right place really.”

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