Andrew's growing pains

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The Independent Online

Newcastle 9 Northampton 52

Newcastle are now bottom of the second division, and if Rob Andrew had been at Kingston Park, he would understand why. Quite why he was not there, though, is less easy to fathom. Having been unable to attend any Newcastle league games because of his commitment to Wasps, it seemed an extraordinary decision to absent himself now that commitment is finished.

Until now, Andrew has missed Newcastle's Thursday training sessions because he has been training with Wasps, so for the present Newcastle players, his contribution has been Monday night tutelage, and much publicised efforts to replace them. It is not surprising, then, that he has unsettled them and, while the party line is that competition for places and future glory are good things, there are those who feel that the players' uncertainty over their future has contributed to their poor performances.

Andrew, according to Harry Patrick, the present coach, "has sensed this atmosphere of 'what the hell's going on here'," and so he sat them down on Monday night and explained that there is a place in the future of the club for everyone, it was just up to them to prove it. "How do you think I felt," said Patrick, who has been at the club as a player and coach for 30 years, "when I opened the paper on Friday and found there was a new coach [Steve Bates] coming? I've just got to prove this club can't do without me."

For the present, the club could do with as much of Andrew and everyone else as they can get. Northampton, who are unfit - or too fit - to play second-division rugby, won by eight tries to nil in a performance which coach Ian McGeechan said was their worst of the season.

It is possible that a rearrangement of the league structure will prevent any relegation from the second division, but if this does not occur, then Newcastle are prime contenders, even with their new arrivals. Last season, Fylde were relegated with 16 points; Newcastle have two points with 11 matches to play. The first of the new signings will be available for only the last six games and these include fixtures against the teams currently placed first, second and third.

So 31 October is an important date for the club as they will discover if the league is to be restructured and whether the 120-day moratorium that new players have to sit out is to be lifted. If both decisions go against them, then it may not be Rob Andrew who keeps Newcastle in the second division, but Sir John Hall when he is forced to fulfil his threat and take the Rugby Football Union to court.

Newcastle: Penalties Cramb 3. Northampon: Tries Allen 3, Dawson, Beddow, Merlin, Rodber, penalty try; Conversions: Grayson 6.

Newcastle: G Robson; M Brummit, R Wilkinson, I Chandler, T Elliot; R Cramb, J Wilkinson; M Long (I Shanks 23), N Frankland, P Van-Zandvliet, R Metcalfe, F Mitchell, I Williams (D Holder, 38), S Cassidy (D Holder 16-20), R Arnold (P Clark 58).

Northampton: J Bell (C Moir); M Dodds, M Allen, G Townsend, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, T Beddow, M Hynes, J Phillips, M Bayfield, T Rodber (G Seely 13-15), B Pountney, D Merlin.

Referee: N Cousins (Dulwich).