England v South Africa
Noon out to guide England's young guns
PA Sport
November 21, 2008
England centre Jamie Noon during the win over the Pacific Islands, November 8 2008
Jamie Noon is now one of England's more experienced player, and will be leading by example against the Boks © Getty Images

Picture the scene in the England changing room minutes after they had been humiliated 36-0 by South Africa in the group phase of the rugby World Cup last year.

The mood was sombre, the embarrassed silence broken only by head coach Brian Ashton pointing out some home truths. Then the door opened and England centre Jamie Noon trundled in, sat in a wheelchair with a wheel which sounded like a squealing piglet.

Suddenly the angst of one of the worst defeats in the nation's rugby history gave way to a collective titter. On Saturday at Twickenham Noon will face South Africa for the first time since he suffered the medial ligament damage to his left knee which saw him carried off a minute from the end of that group match.

Yet the memory of that Paris evening still makes him chuckle. Let him explain. "The doctor made me go into the changing room in this wheelchair which looked more like a commode and one of the wheels squeaked dreadfully," he said. "All the boys were quite sombre and the doctor just wheeled me into a corner and then literally left me facing the wall.

"The boys thought it was hilarious. They said if I'd said 'I want that one,' like off Little Britain, everyone would have cracked up. As it was they were all sniggering under their breath.

"From then on, whenever I sent postcards or good luck messages to the guys I used to sign them 'From Ironside.' It broke the tension that day and I suppose that was a good thing."

It is a tribute to Noon's equilibrium that he can see the funny side of an injury which cost him a place in a World Cup final. Yet level-headedness and solidity are what attracted successive England coaches to the talents of the Newcastle centre, who brings essential experience to the current three-quarter line.

An old hand is deemed vital in a new-look team which beat the Pacific Islanders a fortnight ago, but whose lack of discipline cost them a 28-14 defeat against Australia last Saturday.

Noon, 29 and winning his 36th cap, said, "Sometimes I feel my role is to hold back the youngsters a little bit. I've played a lot of games and it's about making sure we build pressure on the opposition.

"Australia did that really well against us. They kept pinning us back with their tactical kicking. South Africa pose a lot of threats, real pace on the wings and a great pack. We will have to play well to compete but we believe we have the side to do that."

Noon's rounded character has never been in doubt, as you might expect from a man who was born in Goole, whose home town is Whitby and who has a degree in Sport and Exercise Science from Northumbria University and a diploma in sports massage from Newcastle College.

Married to Rachel with a son, Lewis, and a daughter, Elodie Grace, he is not the sort to court celebrity or be discovered in a London nightclub, unlike a certain 21-year-old England fly-half.

Yet Noon, a club team-mate of Jonny Wilkinson, is a big supporter of current England number 10 Danny Cipriani and backs him to move past the criticism over the shortcomings in his defence and decision-making.

Noon added, "He has to be positive. He is a great footballer. We are a new side and a new backline. We have a new attacking coach bringing in new patterns. It takes time to get things firing.

"South Africa have been together a long time, so have Australia. This England core is just starting its journey. Areas of our game are improving and it's important we carry on down that road."

For all those who insist on comparing Cipriani and Wilkinson he also has a simple message. "They are different people and players," he said. ``Everything Wilko did he had to be the best at and that's why defence was so important for him. He never wanted to show a weakness.

"Danny likes to take people on, uses his pace. Danny will grow into it. It took Wilko a couple of years to really control games and defend the way he does."

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