High Noon for England

by BARRY COLLINS, Mail online

Last updated at 12:17 27 May 2005

It must be hard to be enthusiastic about being selected for an England team that the coach cannot even be bothered to manage. Andy Robinson, along with several of his key players, will miss this weekend's game against the Barbarians to be part of Clive Woodward's mammoth Lions party.

Players like Jamie Noon, meanwhile, are left to try and put a finishing gloss on an England season that all involved would probably prefer to forget. Outclassed and outfought in the Six Nations, the world champions have looked anything but.

Yet, if being selected for (what is effectively) England's B side is an anti-climax to a troubled season, Jamie Noon isn't showing it. "There's a lot of youth in this side, which is refreshing - people are keen to show their worth," claims the Newcastle centre.

For Noon, one of the players chopped at the last-minute from Sir Clive's World Cup-winning squad 18 months ago, proving his worth is everything. He was ever-present in England's inconsistent Six Nations side, following pleas from Newcastle director of rugby, Rob Andrew, to give the 26-year-old a decent run in the team.

Noon is too diplomatic to acknowledge that support from Andrew, one of Andy Robinson's most vocal critics, is probably more of a hindrance than a help. But with Robinson on the other side of the world, it's not him Noon has to impress this weekend anyway. So what has the camp been like without the boss around? "Each coach has different attitudes to training. We have not been training as much as we would have normally," Noon confesses. While the cat's away? No, they are taking it easier "because it's the end of the season and players are tired."

Lacking experience

How will England approach the Barbarians without several of their most-experienced players? "We need to calm ourselves down early doors," says Noon, dipping into the more politically correct parts of the Ron Atkinson phrase book. "They can play very, very well - they beat us last year. There's a lot of new guys coming into the side and we're hoping that we can fulfil our potential."

Fulfilling potential is something England have failed to do ever since returning from Australia with the Webb Ellis trophy in their kit bag. Does this squad feel the burden of being world champions, even though the vast majority of them weren't part of that historic team? "We are world champions and we want to make sure we are world champions next time. That doesn't mean we have to peak right now," he states, turning defensive for the first time in the interview.

"There is definitely an expectancy on England. But we can't be expected to go from world champions to world champions again without any dip in form."

Newcastle struggles

Noon is no stranger to dips in form this season. As well as England's troubles, Noon's Newcastle side threw away a promising start to the Premiership season to finish a mediocre seventh. "At the start of the season we felt we had a good chance in the title chase - we wanted to be top three at least. I don't think we've done ourselves justice," Noon says.

What went wrong? "There have been injuries right through the side," Noon explains. "Jonny [Wilkinson] is one of those, Colin Charvis is another. We've not done as well as we would have liked."

Yet if it's been a hard season for Noon, he shows no signs of self-doubt. He speaks with confidence and optimism - and with more conviction than his absent coach Robinson can muster in interviews. "That all sounded pretty negative," said my editor as she overheard my interview with Noon. And she was right - except for the man on the other end of the phone.

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