ROB ANDREW and his new assistant Dean Ryan were both absent from Newcastle yesterday. Wise decisions. Their team succumbed to the expected thrashing by league leaders Northampton and provided ample evidence that, for the most part, their first-team places are history once Andrew's new signings have arrived to rescue them from relegation worries. "Come on, Wasps," yelled one ironic suppporter. Come on, indeed.
As well as a new team, there is that new stand to come to hold 25,000 people. This could perhaps be put on hold as less than a tenth of that number were present yesterday - still a very creditable number by second division standards - though a very healthy proportion were wearing Northampton shirts. For those supporting the home side, there is one buzzword: "Moratorium". They generally think it should be lifted, allowing Andrew and his new signings to play for them immediately rather than wait the regulatory 120 days. This would prevent the oppostion fans singing, as they did yesterday, "Rob Andrew, Rob Andrew, what's it like to have no team?". It would also prevent Sir John Hall from having to take the RFU to court as he has been threatening to do over the past couple of days.
The removal of the moratorium would also come to the much needed aid of this beleaguered team. Richard Arnold, at No 8, looks to be a player of class and they have that rare commodity in lock Richard Metcalfe - a man who can look down on Martin Bayfield - but elsewhere they are thin. Their first-choice scrum-half is injured, their number two choice had to fill in at full-back, so in came student John Wilkinson for a plucky debut.
Against a man of Matt Dawson's quality, however, Wilkinson had little chance to perform. But there again, nor did any of his team-mates. In their every fixture this season, Northampton's staggering points tally has proved that they are totally out of place in League Two and yesterday, although not at their best, it was no different.
To their credit, they endeavour to run absolutely everything, but when it is clear that the opposition is able to stop you, the thrill and anticipation of yet another tap-penalty tends to evaporate. They went over for eight tries and en route to most of them, broke some very poor tackling. Newcastle could justifiably complain about an extraordinary penalty try awarded against them in the 29th minute, but must take the blame for most of the others.
Three impressive penalties by Richard Cramb pegged Saints' lead back to 19-9 at half-time but thereafter it was no contest and if they had held on to a few more passes, then the match video Rob Andrew is to study would have made even more miserable viewing. As it is, he will see a succession of tries from Dawson, Beddow, Merlin and Rodber and a hat-trick from centre Matt Allen. Allen has now scored 12 tries this season - another man for whom it may be well worth opening the Sir John Hall cheque book.
Newcastle: G Robson; M Brummit, R Wilkinson (capt), 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, 46); M Dodds, M Allen, G Townsend, H Thorneycroft, P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, T Beddow; M Hynes, J Phillips, M Bayfield, T Rodber (capt) (G Seely, 13-15), B Bountney, D Merlin.
Referee: N Cousins (Dulwich, London).