Noon itching for his day in the sun

Autumn internationals: Last year's World Cup nearly man craves his chance to make an England place his own
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One of the most fashionable topics of conversation used to be player burn-out, but that has been superceded by something even more physically challenging - wipe-out. The consensus is that the game is becoming a health hazard in its professional evolution, and that the required reading for more and more players is not so much Sir Clive Woodward's autobiography as The Lancet.

One of the most fashionable topics of conversation used to be player burn-out, but that has been superceded by something even more physically challenging - wipe-out. The consensus is that the game is becoming a health hazard in its professional evolution, and that the required reading for more and more players is not so much Sir Clive Woodward's autobiography as The Lancet.

Last Thursday, Newcastle announced that Andrew Mower, their international back-row forward, had been forced to retire after failing to recover from a couple of knee operations. Mower, who is 29, won 13 caps for Scotland and made more than 50 Premiership appearances for the Falcons. Newcastle's most celebrated casualty is, of course, Jonny Wilkinson. He also went under the surgeon's knife and is currently nursing an arm injury, which means he will be a spectator at the club's Heineken Cup match against Perpignan at Kingston Park today.

Not everybody is finding that life in the Premiership can be an occupational hazard, though. The season before last Jamie Noon entered the record books on account of not missing a single second of the league programme. He went on to play in 56 successive games, a run broken two weeks ago when he suffered a slight calf injury against Saracens.

"I don't think the game has become more dangerous, although it's definitely a lot harder," said Noon, who this afternoon will partner the precocious teenager Mathew Tait at centre for Newcastle. "Through professional training players have become more powerful and it's made rugby more attractive. The downside is that, because of the intensity, players' careers will not be as long as they used to be."

Noon, who is 25, is in his sixth season with Newcastle, a club who, in Alan Shearer territory, have built up a decent following, but apart from a couple of spectacular triumphs in the Powergen Cup have failed to make a regular impression at the sharp end of the Premiership. Last season they finished ninth in the table, earning qualification for the Heineken by beating Sale 37-33 in the cup final at Twickenham. All but 43 minutes of the entire campaign were played without Wilkinson; by contrast Noon, as regular as night and day, received the club's Player of the Year trophy.

It is an award that he is proud of, but the fact is he would rather have been in Australia. Noon, a graduate of English Universities, England Under-21s, the successful sevens outfit and the Newcastle Academy, thought he was in with a very good shout of making England's World Cup squad. He featured prominently in the match against the New Zealand Maori on the short tour of the southern hemisphere 15 months ago and then played in the final warm-up matches against Wales in Cardiff and France in Marseilles. "To tell you the truth I thought I'd done enough," Noon said. "There had been some positive feedback and I felt OK about everything."

That was until he got the phone call from Woodward. "We had a long chat and basically he said he didn't think I was up to it and that I didn't look confident on the ball. His gut reaction was to go with somebody else. I didn't press him too hard, it was too late by then anyway. There was nothing I could do except wish him the best of luck. I was gutted. I couldn't say he made the wrong decision. In the event Mike Catt did an awesome job, and I'll never know whether I'd have done any better."

Gutted or not, Noon still had a job to do with Newcastle. "The funny thing is that although I was sitting at home I still felt part of the England set-up. It was quite hard as I'd missed out on such a massive occasion, but having been part of the England preparation I kept in contact with the boys, exchanging text messages and stuff. For the final we were all in the club house at Kingston Park raising the roof."

Noon is an original member of Rob Andrew's Tyneside Teenies, a back line full of promise, from Hall Charlton at scrum-half and Wilkinson or Dave Walder at stand-off to Tom May and Michael Stephenson on the wing. Newcastle's one-time policy of fielding a squad free of overseas players melted in the heat of the Premiership and they had to get the atlas out. At full-back now is the Australian World Cup winner Matt Burke.

Charlton and Noon were named last week in the England squad for the Twickenham series, against Canada a week on Saturday followed by South Africa and Australia, and they meet up for Red Rose training in Bagshot tomorrow and Tuesday. Noon's first cap came against the Canadians in 2001, and he must be in with a good shout of winning his sixth against the same country, although he would barely whisper the odds.

"I've been let down so many times I don't want to think about it," he said. "In the past, when I thought things were going well it didn't happen. I've been working on different parts of my game and I like to think I've improved. My confidence on the ball is fine, although I'm still learning from younger and older players alike. Anybody who says they've made it is in trouble. I've continued to work extremely hard, and if I get the chance I'll give it my all."

Noon, who was born in Goole, Yorkshire, was playing for Whitby when he was spotted by Newcastle. His father, Russ, a promising footballer, rejected a trial with Leeds United to join the Army and has since become a prison officer and a policeman. Like father, like son?

Apparently not. Jamie was once known as Noon The Loon. At a press conference before the cup final against Harlequins in 2001 he put the trophy on his head and delivered an impromptu monologue. "Afterwards I was told it was bad luck to touch the cup, and I thought about that when we were trailing in the final, but thank goodness we won in the dying seconds. I have a reputation as a joker but I'm trying to shake it off. It's just my personality. Sometimes it doesn't go down too well; I've realised it can give the wrong impression."

His wife, Rachel, is expecting their first child in February. "I suppose I'll have to grow up a little bit," Noon said. "There again, when I start playing with my baby son I might become even more childish."

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