Andrew sails through unruffled introduction

Newcastle's figurehead made a big impact when he made his long- delayed debut for them, says Stephen Brenkley
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It is safe to assume there will be tougher days ahead for Rob Andrew in his Newcastle career than Saturday's 51-5 win over Harrogate. Not every match can be like his debut, which would have resembled an encounter with his fan club had it been slightly more strenuous.

He was gently mobbed from time to time but mostly the opposition simply stood back and watched him perform. Considering their obvious admiration it was a bit surprising that Harrogate resisted the temptation to applaud.

Apart from being allowed to control the destination of the ball much as he pleased, Andrew gathered 21 points which included two penalties, a drop goal and the conversion of all his side's six tries. Two of the latter kicks were beauties, from wide on left and right respectively.

These were moments when the quality of the opposition mattered not and Andrew's preparation and execution were, as ever, immaculate. They are attributes to make it easy to suspect that Newcastle have got the right man to lead them to their golden future.

Harrogate's role was hardly expected to be that of anything more than innocent bystanders. As their taxi-driving prop Al Brown put it: "We didn't come up here to join in the Rob Andrew Show, we came to ruin it. Unfortunately it never looked like working out." The point was that Brown knew that it was indeed the Rob Andrew Show.

A bit further down the bill but still with star status was the Lions prop, Nick Popplewell. He intends to commute from his home in Dublin to play for Newcastle but from the buffeting he gave Brown ("I can tell my grandchildren about it," the Harrogate player said) his commitment to the cause is not in doubt. Popplewell flew home yesterday, will report for duty in his stockbroking office today and tomorrow morning and then fly back for the game against Transvaal tomorrrow evening.

He and Andrew, bound by the Rugby Football Union's 120-day rule for league matches until early next year, will play in all the friendly fixtures they can. They, not to mention the other former Wasps player Dean Ryan, who could not play on Saturday because of injury, are anxious that they will at least be on passing terms with their less venerated colleagues before the fight against Second Division relegation resumes.

It was that, not Harrogate that was exercising Andrew's mind after Saturday's friendly proceedings. That and somewhat broader horizons. "In a perfect world," said the clean cut man, whom it is still difficult to believe has been charged with heading a rugby revolution, "we will be in Europe in 1998. That's as quick as we can do it."

Retention of their present status may not be straightforward.

There are some neatly moving backs who can help them do it and the captain Ross Wilkinson, whose second try on Saturday involved a run of 70 yards, has a searing turn of pace. But it may rely more than somewhat on Andrew persuading opponents to freeze in wonderment.

Newcastle: Tries Wilkinson 2, Childs, Popplewell, Wilson, Mullarkey; Conversions Andrew 6; Penalties Andrew 2; Drop goal Andrew. Harrogate: Try Caldwell.

Newcastle: I McLelland; M Wilson, R Wilkinson, J Fletcher, G Childs; R Andrew, G Robson (P Cherry, 63 ); N Popplewell (B Aldington, 59), A Hetherington, P Van-Zandvliet, F Mitchell, R Metcalfe (N Mullarkey, 60), N Frankland, S Cassidy, G Holder.

Harrogate: I Hassall; S Hockey, M Brain, A Caldwell, A Taylor; R Zoing (D Clappison, 70), M Wood; J Field, R Whyley, A Brown, P Taylor, M Ruthen, A Pride, D Wheat, J Hopkinson (R Nolan, 74).

Referee: P Dickens (East Midlands).