It’s a beautifully sunny afternoon in the north of England and O2 has kindly combined the best aspects of both winter and summer: rugby and the beach.
Unsurprisingly, the rugby crowds have turned out in force with plenty of fun and games going on everywhere, and some of the Newcastle Falcons squad are mingling with their fans, signing autographs and chatting to the children.
One of those is England centre, Jamie Noon, and the hard-tackling unit of a man is good enough to talk to our reporter from The Rugby Blog who asks him what he’s been up to since the England tour of New Zealand.
“I had a week off when we got back, and then spent four days doing a ‘coast-to-coast’ charity bike ride for the British Heart Foundation. We’ve all been back at training for a week or so now.”
“What’s the mood in the camp like, given some of the recent changes in personnel?”
“It’s pretty good actually. There’s been a lot of stuff written about us, but we’ve got a good bunch of guys and we are just getting on with it. People come and go all the time in rugby…that’s just the way it is.”
“How has the training been going?”
“We are really just trying to learn the new rules at the moment. The laws themselves are pretty simple, but it’s how you apply them that is the hard bit. Teams will interpret them in different ways, and we have to work out how to use them to our advantage.”
“How do you think Newcastle will fare this year in the Premiership?”
“I’ve got a good feeling about it actually, and we are all fairly hopeful of a good season. Saying that, we’ve been confident for the last few years, but haven’t quite managed to stay in the top half of the table. I wouldn’t say we’ve under-achieved – I think we just haven’t quite achieved as much as we should have.”
“We’ve got a very strong squad with a fair bit of experience and quite a few young guys coming through from the academy as well. Our main objective is to get into the Heineken Cup next year.”
“Last season, apart from Leeds, Newcastle scored the fewest tries in the Premiership. Are you doing anything to address that?”
“I think we’ll be running the ball a lot more that we have done previously. We’ve looked at the way we think rugby is going, and you’ve got to be able run from anywhere.”
“Danny Williams might help your chances of scoring?”
“Danny Williams – you signed him from Leeds Rhinos last week?”
“Oh yeah. He hasn’t started yet, but he’s supposed to be pretty quick!”
“And what about England? Is Johnno the right man for the job of reversing our fortunes?”
“I think he is. If he isn’t, I just don’t know who is to be honest. He’s played at the highest level and he’s got so much respect that he will just make it work.”
“Will we learn anything from the New Zealand tour?”
“We’ve got to. We got some pretty harsh lessons out there and we’ve got to build on what we have. It’s not like we are starting from scratch, but we really need to consider our approach.”
“We always seem to be slightly bereft of ideas in attack, whereas New Zealand always seem to put a lot more pace on the ball in attack. Is that fair to say?”
“Not completely. I think the breakdown is actually the key, rather than looking at our backs moves. The All Blacks were definitely better at the breakdown than we were, disrupting our ball so much that we couldn’t do much with it. They do seem to get away with an awful lot, and the referee would let them lie all over the ball, but then ping us if we tried to slow them down. They were coming in from the side, killing the ball, and without quick ball it’s so difficult to attack at pace.”
“So what are your personal objectives for the season?”
“I really just want to play as much as I can. It was a bit frustrating last year with my knee inkiry at the World Cup and then did my ankle later in the season. If I can string some decent games together and then compete for places in the autumn, I’ll be happy.”
“Does everyone have one eye on the Lions tour next summer?”
“Not just yet. The key thing for me is getting in the England side. There are a lot of good players around, but if I get in the England team, there’s a chance I’ll go on the Lions tour. I just need to stay fit and strong and do the best I can.”
“Well Jamie, thanks for your time. Good luck this season, I hope it works out well for you.”
Jamie Noon spoke to us at O2 Scrum on the Beach. Follow the link for details of the next few events – they are well worth going to.