Jamie Noon has been hailed as England’s "best all-round centre" in the battle for midfield places to face Australia and New Zealand this autumn.
Noon, an ever-present during last season’s Six Nations, is in the selection mix alongside fit-again World Cup winners Mike Tindall and Stuart Abbott, Bath’s Olly Barkley and possibly even Josh Lewsey.
Rob Andrew, Noon’s club boss at Newcastle, believes the 26-year-old must find himself in pole position on current form.
"Jamie looks the best all-round centre in the country at the moment," said Andrew, following Falcons’ 16-9 Guinness Premiership victory at Northampton, their first league away win since Christmas.
"He has got more confidence from the Six Nations after he kept on getting knocked back by the old (England) regime.
"He is great in defence, but he’s also a real handful in attack."
Noon’s commanding display, accompanied by impressive contributions from fly-half Dave Walder and wing Mathew Tait, enabled Newcastle to bounce back following a demoralising home defeat against newly-promoted Bristol.
"Walder is a good player, but I have been frustrated by his level of consistency," added Andrew, offering a candid assessment of Jonny Wilkinson’s stand-in.
"In this league, it is all about consistency and taking responsibility, and we all did that.
"He scored a good opportunist try, two good drop-goals and technically he was excellent," Andrew added.
"Newcastle pulled us apart, and if anything, they should have scored two or three more tries against us," admitted Northampton rugby director Budge Pountney.
"I couldn’t fault the endeavour of our players. They gave it their best shot, but whether their best is quite good enough, I don’t know."
Worcester Warriors recorded a nail-biting 25-24 win over
Saracens at Sixways.
Saracens ran Worcester ragged out wide, scoring tries through full-back Dan Scarbrough (2), wing Richard Haughton and centre Thomas Castaignede.
But Warriors held all the aces up-front, where props Chris Horsman and Tony Windo were in destructive scrummaging mode and Worcester’s driving maul repeatedly scattered Saracens defenders like confetti.
Veteran Windo, 37 next April, scored the decisive try two minutes into injury-time, with fly-half Shane Drahm’s conversion avenging a one-point defeat at home to Saracens last season.
"We felt we could have controlled the game a bit better in the last few minutes, but we didn’t have the wherewithal to do it," conceded Saracens rugby director Steve Diamond.
Wasps coaches Ian McGeechan and Shaun Edwards hailed the performance of Mark van Gisbergen after the full-back kicked 22 points in the 47-23 defeat of Leeds at Headingley.
Van Gisbergen turned in another flawless kicking display as his side inflicted the third successive Guinness Premiership defeat on Leeds.
Edwards believes van Gisbergen, who qualified to play for England through residency at the start of September, is ready to make the step up to international rugby.
Edwards said: "I’d be pretty happy to have him playing 15 in my (England) team.
"He’s got plenty of talent and backs it up with his consistency."
McGeechan backed Edwards’ thoughts, praising van Gisbergen’s simple kicking style – a style which has not seen him miss a single kick at goal this season.
"He has the right temperament and such a simple kicking action," McGeechan said.
Leeds Tykes director of rugby Phil Davies insists the feel-good-factor at Headingley is still alive and kicking, despite his side’s slow start to the season.
"We still have reasons to be optimistic," Davies said.
"Progress doesn’t always go in a straight line, and although it might look like we’re going backwards at the moment, we just need a win to get things going.
"We are building our squad with a quality group of lads."
Gloucester boss Dean Ryan is hopeful England stars Phil Vickery and Mike Tindall avoided serious injuries during his team’s emphatic 41-9 victory at Bristol.
Prop Vickery was forced off with a shoulder problem three minutes before half-time, while his fellow World Cup winner Tindall left the action late on clutching his ribs.
"Both players are sore, but it is too early to make an assessment at this stage," said Ryan,
"I don’t think either of them will require x-rays, but I am not the expert."
Ryan though, was not totally satisfied with Gloucester’s performance, especially the number of penalties conceded by his team and the late sin-binnings of French front-row forwards Patrice Collazo and Olivier Azam.
"We are upset with some aspects. There were a lot of penalties against us, and just because we were running at 40-odd nine ahead, our behaviour mustn’t change," Ryan added.
"In points terms this season, I am pleased, but in performance terms there is a long way to go."
Gloucester remain unbeaten after three games, but Bristol’s 100% record is over and they must now pick themselves up for next Saturday’s clash at London Irish, which they will face without influential scrum-half Shaun Perry.
Perry tore his hamstring in the first half, and could be sidelined for a few weeks.
Bristol head coach Richard Hill had no complaints about the result, and paid tribute to the Gloucester effort.
"That was more like what we were expecting to face in the Premiership," he said. "It wasn’t a good performance from us, and we are disappointed, but Gloucester looked very sharp.
"It was our most ill-disciplined performance so far, and there was also a lot of over-eagerness which we know that we just cannot afford to do.
"It is a case now of forgetting about it and moving on. We have been beaten by a better side fair and square, and you accept it."