It is to be hoped Phil Godman enjoyed the Doctor Who special on Saturday evening because earlier in the day the Newcastle fly-half’s adventures in space and time had an unhappy ending thanks to the tackling of Courtney Lawes.
The England second row said he had found it “quite tough” getting mentally adjusted to the return from autumn Tests to club action in the Premiership, but not half as tough as Godman’s task in being harangued by Lawes during a fairly straightforward 18-0 home win for Northampton.
It kept the Saints second in the league table, even though the incessant nature of the season meant they were missing four of their international players on Test duty and another five injured or suspended. Two penalties by Steve Myler in the second quarter, enhanced by tries from James Wilson and Luther Burrell midway through the second half and one conversion by Myler, easily outdid the big fat duck egg for Newcastle, who have easily the worst Premiership statistics for tries and points scored: just three and 69 respectively in eight matches.
“It’s quite tough to come from the tough international games straight back into the Premiership, hard to get your head round it,” said Lawes. “It’s different; there’s so much pressure on you [with England], then you’re relieved of that pressure and it’s hard to keep yourself mentally focused enough to put in a good performance. I worked really hard to get myself motivated this week, I thought I played solid with some good carries, didn’t make any mistakes, pressured the 10 and made some good hits.”
Lawes also said he had been preoccupied with his new role calling line-outs for England, which all suggests he can only increase his already impressive influence for club and country as the season goes on.
Meanwhile Dean Richards, the Berkshire referee, and his assistants, were angrily criticised by Dean Richards, the Newcastle director of rugby, for “inconsistencies” in the scrum, the breakdown, recovering to be onside in defence and more besides. The overall accusation was that Richards the ref favoured the home team in all departments and Richards the coach – and former England and Lions No 8 – was heard questioning whether all the top referees were injured and who is coaching them these days.
As it happened, England’s top two whistlers were on international duty: Wayne Barnes refereeing France v South Africa and J P Doyle running touch for Italy v Argentina.
Despite Northampton’s depleted state Newcastle barely laid a glove on them, for all their forwards’ tidy pick-and-go play and the early darts on the wing of Noah Cato.
Among Northampton’s absentees, Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley of England should be fit to play at Worcester this weekend if required, and certainly for the back-to-back matches against Leinster in December that will be crucial to the outcome of Heineken Cup Pool One.
The England and Lions prop Alex Corbisiero is a different kettle of embrocation. Northampton’s head coach, Jim Mallinder, raised hopes when he said reports of six months out were wide of the mark, before suggesting “three to four” was the accurate figure. That still rules Corbisiero out of the first two Six Nations Championship matches, and possibly all of them.