Andrew kickstarts his new career

Stephen Brenkley sees the ex-England stand-off's bright debut for Newcastle
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The Independent Online
BY WAY of demonstrating what priorities in Newcastle may still apply, England's most prolific stand-off struggled to register a flicker yesterday on the sportsmen-who-must-be-seen scale. Barely 1,500 spectators bothered to watch Rob Andrew's first appearance for the North-east's new rugby giant, which is part of the ever-expanding Newcastle United.

Almost predictably for a man capable of scoring a wondrous drop goal in the dying seconds of a World Cup quarter-final, they saw him kick 21 points with a delightful, metronomic ease to steer Newcastle to a 51- 5 win over Harrogate. Throughout, there was not a single chant of "Toon Army".

Andrew's practised accuracy from hand and floor must have reminded those present what England missed last week before a rather more substantial audience. The smallness of the crowd should not be taken to mean that the MBE's return to somewhere near his roots (Andrew is a north Yorkshireman who went to school in County Durham) has had no effect.

While it may take time to stir the souls of that part of the city's sporting population who assume St James' Park to be a solitary paradise, he has already captured some hearts. As the man in the tiny club shop proudly reported, the result of one small television appearance by Andrew wearing a Newcastle shirt had been overwhelming. A season's entire stock was sold within a month. Mostly they went to female fans who see Andrew as a dreamboat and will buy any size.

It is to be hoped they continue to see it that way. The dreamboat's debut coincided with a brand new strip for the team. It has more green in it than the previous shirt, which is probably more an indication of the marketing times than of any urge by the new management to infuse more of the club's traditional colour.

On the pitch, the new star in the new shirt began inauspiciously. His first touch of the ball came when he took the kick-off. It did not travel the requisite 10 yards. Andrew stood with knees bent briefly on the centre circle and shook his head. You wondered if he was asking whether he had done the right thing after all, and if life with Wasps and England did not have its compensations?

But Andrew, of course, has built a whole career on resilience. In the fourth minute, he kicked his first penalty, from 15 yards. In the ninth, his swift timely pass near half-way led to the first of his side's six tries. Within minutes of the start of the second half he had a fraction of space 20 yards out from the Harrogate line and dropped his first goal. He missed just one kick at goal all day.

Andrew's appetite was clear. This was a friendly match, of course, and Newcastle were obviously superior against opponents from the Courage Third Division. They won vast amounts of ball, especially early on, largely due to the presence of Irish international Nick Popplewell, one of Andrew's first signings, who was also making his debut, and of Richard Metcalfe, at 7ft 1in the tallest man in world rugby.

There is still a relegation struggle to be won. Andrew, subject to the RFU's 120-day rule, should be available for the final five matches. He demonstrated enough yesterday to confirm that he still possesses both the hunger and the will, and may yet get more people to see it happen.

Newcastle: McClelland; Wilson, Wilkinson, Fletcher, Childs; Andrew, Robson (Cherry, 63); Popplewell (Adlington, 51), Hetherington, Van-Zandvliet, Mitchell, Metcalfe (Mullarkey, 60), Frankland, Cassidy, Holder.

Harrogate: Hassall; Hockey, Brain, Caldwell, Taylor; Zoing (Plattison, 71) Wood; Field, Whyley, Brown, Taylor, Ruthen, Pride, Wheat, Hopkinson (Nolan, 70).

Referee: P Dickens (East Midlands).