Falcons fly-half looking to learn

Steve Jones knows he has a fight on his hands after rejoining Newcastle Falcons, but thinks being surrounded by so many top-quality backs will only improve his game.

Steve Jones knows he has a fight on his hands after rejoining Newcastle Falcons, but thinks being surrounded by so many top-quality backs will only improve his game.

The former Scotland Under-21 and England Under-19 international was a product of the Falcons academy but moved to rugby league side Huddersfield Giants and Border Reivers before returning to Kingston Park when the Magners League club was wound down at the end of last season.

The Ashington-born 24-year-old expects competing with the likes of England pair Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood and captain Matt Burke to bring the best out of him.

"I'll have to fight hard for a place but it's an exciting position to be in, working with guys like that every day," said the former Northumbria University student. "With the World Cup at the start of the season it may well be an opportunity comes my way but there are a lot of other quality players in the squad and I can't take anything for granted."

Versatility could work in Jones' favour. "I've played most of my senior rugby at fly-half but full-back is a position I enjoy a lot and I've also played in the centres," he pointed out. "The quality in the Newcastle squad is so good you have great players like Matt Burke at full-back and Jamie Noon, Mathew Tait, Mark Mayerhofler and Toby Flood in the centres. But being part of that group and learning every day is a tremendous challenge."

Jones has had no difficulty settling in with his old academy coach John Fletcher now Newcastle's director of rugby and his former Borders boss Steve Bates on the coaching staff.

"I enjoyed my time in the academy under John Fletcher and with him now as director of rugby, when the chance came about to come back to the club I was determined to take it," said Jones. "Batesy is someone I have a huge amount of respect for, so working with him and John Fletcher is great."

Lock Mark Sorenson has been handed a contract extension seven months after joining from Bay of Plenty. The 28-year-old New Zealander is now committed to the club until 2010.

"Mark came very highly recommended from our scouting network in New Zealand before we watched him play a number of times and is tailor-made for English rugby," said forwards coach Peter Walton.

"He is a big, physical lock from the hard school of the Bay of Plenty and fitted straight in to our side. He has adapted to North-East life extremely quickly, his wife has a teaching job in the area and his attitude behind the scenes has been superb."

Meanwhile, Northampton have appointed Jim Mallinder as the club's new director of rugby. Mallinder has signed a three-year contract and will be assisted at Franklin's Gardens by Dorian West. The pair led the England Saxons to victory in the Churchill Cup at Twickenham last weekend.

Following Northampton's request, the Rugby Football Union have granted Mallinder and West early release from their positions at the national academy. With Mallinder taking up his post immediately, acting head coach Peter Sloane will leave the club.

Northampton were in the market for a new director of rugby after Paul Grayson was moved to backs and skills coach following the Saints' relegation.

Mallinder's appointment was made following an extensive selection process, with the likes of Warren Gatland, Wayne Smith, Eddie Jones and Andy Robinson all linked with the post.

But in the end it was the experience Mallinder and West have had in developing young players in the England set-up which proved crucial.

Saints chief executive Allan Robson said: "We could not have wished for a better response to our decision to appoint a director of rugby with applicants from both the northern and southern hemispheres.

"We placed a good deal of emphasis not only on the ability to create an immediate impact on current performances but also on the longer term development of the young English talent at the club in players such as Dylan Hartley, Jon Clarke, Chris Ashton, Alex Rae and even younger lads in the academy such as David Smith, Will Harries and Phil Hoy. And the board were unanimous that Jim and Dorian have the right credentials for the job."

As a coaching partnership with England Under-21s and England Saxons, Mallinder and West have won 15 out of 16 matches. They led the Under-21s to the 2006 Grand Slam and last weekend masterminded the Saxons' victory over the New Zealand Maori.

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