It’s premature to suggest that Bristol’s new South African signing Mathew Turner will become rugby’s version of Kevin Pietersen but the kid Western Province didn’t want has started his senior professional career brilliantly.
Turner has represented WP U19 and was the leading try scorer in the inaugural Varsity Cup for UCT in 2008. Many respected commentators predicted a bright future in South Africa for the youngster, some even suggesting that he was ready to make the step up to senior provincial rugby.
However, despite his obvious class he was deemed surplus to requirements at U21 level at WP and sought to forge a career with Bristol in the Premiership. He debuted on Saturday against Northampton and shone in a losing cause, scoring two tries and creating a number of opportunities for teammates.
Turner holds a British passport and has already been drafted into England’s Sevens 26-man training squad. If he makes an appearance for them he’ll be ineligible to play for South Africa. If he continues to build on his impressive start with Bristol there is every chance that he could be considered for the England Test side for their Year End Incoming Tours, where he could face the Springboks on 22 November. England have trialled a number of wingers in recent times and the position remains a headache for them.
Prior to the 2008 season Western Province opted to contract veteran wing Wylie Human from the Lions as cover for their first-choice players in that position. The deal made no sense given that Human is 29-years-old who had seemingly hit the ceiling of his potential. Turner was yet to spring to prominence during the Super 14, but WP would have surely known what Human could offer at that stage and could have gambled on a rookie.
Turner was apparently keen to stay at WP, but was given no indication that he was in the long-term plans of the union. This prompted his decision to move once the offer from Bristol came.
Western Province are particularly guilty of allowing their best young players to be poached by rival South African unions. They’ve already surrendered SA U19 players Francois Hougaard and Stephan Dippenaar to the Bulls. Both went on to acquit themselves well in the Super 14. Another former Western Province junior Juandré Kruger, has deputised brilliantly in the absence of Bakkies Botha. These are just the most recent of a number of top performers the union has let slip through their fingers.
Something needs to change at the union so as to ensure that they retain their best young players. If not, WP supporters must brace for more of the disappointment they’ve become all too accustomed to in recent years.
By Ryan Vrede