Jamie Noon will return to the Test match arena on Sunday with a ringing endorsement for his Newcastle and England colleague Jonny Wilkinson.
Fly-half superstar Wilkinson needs just four points to reach 1,000 for England when the World Cup finalists face a banana skin RBS 6 Nations Championship clash against Italy at Stadio Flaminio.
But his game will be subjected to fierce examination following England’s shock 26-19 Twickenham defeat at the hands of Wales last weekend.
Wilkinson was fiercely criticised for his performance during a second-half implosion when Wales scored 20 unanswered points in less than 15 minutes.
And another below-par contribution could conceivably see him removed from the equation when England resume their Six Nations campaign against France in Paris on February 23.
England head coach Brian Ashton has alternatives for the number 10 shirt, including Danny Cipriani, Shane Geraghty and Charlie Hodgson, but Wilkinson remains the player in possession.
Noon said: “I think it’s all pretty harsh on Jonny.
“Fine, he won’t write the Wales game down as the best game of his life, but some of the stuff he did in the first half was brilliant.
“You cannot fault his enthusiasm, his work rate and his desire to do well.
“Fine, he puts himself in positions where he is more likely to make a mistake. The fact he touches the ball so many more times than someone else, the percentages are that he may make a little mistake.
“But no player works as hard and no player trains as hard as him. If someone is training as hard, he will stay out and do longer because that is the sort of bloke he is.
“For people to slate him on the back of last Saturday is difficult for us when we see the amount of work he puts in to be the best he can be.
“It puts us to shame, more than anything. Because we are so used to him being spot-on all the time, perhaps when we see him make a slight error it becomes magnified.
“The criticism he would have for himself would be way worse than anything the media could give him.”
While Wilkinson looks to resume normal service as England’s tactical controller, Noon reappears in an all-Newcastle midfield, with inside centre Toby Flood completing the Tyneside triumvirate.
Noon is back almost five months after a knee injury cruelly cut short his World Cup campaign on a dire night for English rugby when South Africa smashed Ashton’s men 36-0 at Stade de France.
While England then moved on to resurrect their World Cup campaign and reach a second successive final, Noon could only recuperate and watch the remarkable recovery unfold at home.
He added: “The hardest part was the couple of days over in Paris when I was still there with the guys after I had been injured.
“When they were going on to training, I couldn’t participate.”