Noon: Mike and I are no mere bangers

The centre of much debate mounts a spirited case for the defence and says better is to come
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It is not necessarily true that dog-owners tend to resemble their canine friends. Jamie Noon looks nothing like his pet loves, who happen to be a chihuahua and an English toy terrier. No, he is built more along the lines of a cross between a bulldog and a rottweiler as, coincidentally, is his England co-centre Mike Tindall.

In the post-mortem over England's failure to take control of the Six Nations, the spotlight centred on a back line who were almost force-fed possession against Scotland yet failed to cross the line in a resounding 18-12 defeat. More specifically, the consensus is that the Nos 12 and 13, Tindall and Noon, are peas from the same iPod and perform identical roles.

At this rate, Noon will not have a problem keeping his feet on the ground. The reviews of the England midfield have been more grave than rave, not that the Newcastle centre has had much time to dwell on such matters. After England's delusions of grandeur, not to mention a Grand Slam, ran into a granite wall in Edinburgh, Noon had no sooner returned to the bosom of his young family than he was forced into the role of nursemaid. "They'd gone to Center Parcs for a break and picked up a virus. They were not at all well. There was a lot of vomiting and I had to nurse them through it."

For his part, Noon is sick and tired of reading and listening about England's lack of a cutting edge. He feels that he and Tindall, who is described by the coach, Andy Robinson, as the "heartbeat" of the team, have been getting dog's abuse morning, noon and night. "More and more I'm trying not to read the newspapers. One of the big issues is the England midfield, and every week I get hit by some criticism or another. The thing is, I really don't feel I've done too badly.

"I've made a couple of breaks and I created a couple of tries against Wales. Instead of looking at the big picture people pick on little individual things, and the conclusion is that the midfield has failed, again. It's quite hard to take. I have a real passion about playing for England and I'm desperate to make sure I stay involved. I'm doing my best. We all are. Mike and I are developing together and learning how each other plays. Because we are similar we offer a lot more in defence. For Charlie Hodgson to have someone like Mike outside him is excellent. He puts his head in places where even the forwards would hesitate to go. We're described as crash-bang merchants but we both prefer to run into space. Mind you, sometimes boshing it up the middle can be effective. We need time together. In any case, who else is there?

"In the debrief after Scotland we weren't happy with our performance but we knew that some stupid mistakes lost us the match. We created momentum and then lost possession. That is when we should have been taking defences on. We never capitalised on the hard work. Our ball retention was poor and we were penalised at the breakdown.

"Believe it or not we did do some good things. Scotland were struggling to cope with us and I felt that any minute things would open up for us."

Like they did, in spectacular fashion, for Noon last season at Twickenham, where he scored three tries against the Scots, joining two other hat-trick heroes, Cyril Lowe (1914) and John Carleton (1980). Noon, who was born in Goole 26 years ago, wins his 16th cap today against France in Paris. "This is a good time to play the French because everybody wants to make amends for the poor performance at Murrayfield and the championship is still wide open. We've got fresh ideas and we're going to take France on. Look what Ireland did to them in the second half.

"This time last year we were floundering around at the bottom. We're a youngish side and if we beat France it would set us up for the climax against Ireland at Twickenham. That would be brilliant for us. We haven't peaked yet. There's so much more to come."

Another who is finding the newspapers hard to stomach at breakfast is Martin Corry, the captain. His beef is that his rivalry with Lawrence Dallaglio, the former captain, has become a cause célèbre. "There's nothing wrong with healthy debate," Corry said, "but I'm just amazed this thing has gone on so long."

The moment Dallaglio replaced Corry during the Calcutta Cup match the debate was bound to intensify. The impression is that Robinson likes Corry a lot more as a captain than he does as a No 8, although last week he was reiterating that the back row that starts against France is the best available to Les Rosbifs. "[Lewis] Moody is developing into an outstanding openside," Robinson said, adding, almost as an afterthought, "Martin's been performing well as well. I'm not trying to undermine his leadership. At 12-9 down against Scotland I had a decision to make and I wanted Dallaglio to make an impact. There's nothing pre-conceived." Corry said that was fine by him. "Andy makes the calls and Lawrence is one hell of an impact player to bring off the bench, after all. Everyone wants to play for 80 minutes but if it's not happening coaches are there to make changes."

In the only changes, the two Matts reappear, Stevens, a pitbull forAndrew Sheridan at prop, and the old mongrel Dawson for Harry Ellis at scrum-half. Robinson said Sheridan had the Scots in all sorts of trouble at the scrum but that Stevens is the better player. Dawson is nothing if not a big-game player, and today he will be up against another old foe in Dimitri Yachvili, the man who kicked England to defeat at Twickenham last season.

"This will be a completely different game to the one against Scotland," Robinson said, claiming that England had squandered eight chances at Murrayfield. "For one thing we'll have to do a bit more defending. We'll have to be in their faces and stop them playing. We'll have to be astute and squeeze the life out of them. As soon as I hear the crowd whistling at the French I know we'll be well on our way."