Noon ready to punish minnows

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The Independent Online

The Newcastle coach, John Fletcher, believes the Spanish minnows Cetransa El Salvador should be prepared for a dose of the old rough stuff in today's European Challenge Cup match as the Pool Three encounter marks a return to action for Falcons' England centre Jamie Noon, whose World Cup campaign lasted just two games before he was forced home nursing a knee ligament injury.

"Jamie is absolutely flying in training," Fletcher said. "In our team session last week he was running around trying to take peoples' heads off, so there might be a few crash helmets needed in the Spanish team.

"To have him back in the side is a massive boost, and I know he can't wait to get back out on the field after what has been a frustrating period of time for him with the way his World Cup ended prematurely."

Noon will be partnered in midfield by his England colleague Mathew Tait, whose brother Alex starts at full-back, but Toby Flood (groin) and Jonny Wilkinson (ankle) miss out.

The World Cup winner Butch James has been drafted straight into the Bath line-up for tonight's Pool One encounter against the French hosts Auch. The Springboks fly-half, who only arrived from South Africa earlier this week, makes his debut in a side skippered by Steve Borthwick.

England's Olly Barkley lines up at inside centre, with Red-Rose colleagues Matt Stevens and Lee Mears starting in the front row. Bath also hand a European bow to their Romanian prop Paulica Ion.

Shane Drahm starts at fly-half for Worcester when the Warriors tackle Bucuresti in Romania today. Drahm was dropped following a poor performance against EDF Energy Cup opponents the Ospreys a fortnight ago. But a confident display that guided Worcester's second string to an impressive Guinness A League victory over Leicester earlier this week has helped put him back in favour.

The Warriors, though, will be without centre Dale Rasmussen, who rests a foot injury, so Mark Tucker and Loki Crichton team up in midfield. Other weekend cup action sees a Pool One encounter between Overmach Parma and Albi today, while Pool Five rivals Calvisano and Dax meet in Italy tomorrow.

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