SCOTTISH lock Craig Hamilton makes what could be his final start for Newcastle Falcons at Harlequins tomorrow as they have agreed to release him at the end of the season.

At 25, Hamilton is very keen to regain his place in the Scotland squad and believes he will have a better chance if he plays north of the border.

To get into the national side the man he would probably have to oust would be Falcons clubmate Stuart Grimes, who will be available for Newcastle's next match at home to Bath in two weeks.

Earlier this season it seemed Hamilton had slipped behind 20-year-old Andy Buist in the Falcons' second row pecking order and before suffering knee ligament damage Buist impressed sufficiently to be offered a new two-year deal.

Director of Rugby Rob Andrew said: "Andy has adapted well to first team rugby and once his rehabilitation from his anterior cruciate injury is complete we look forward to seeing him back on the field.

"We will also have Australian Owen Finegan adding his experience at second row next season and he will add a considerable amount of talent to that area.

"Craig has aspirations to get back involved with the Scotland squad after touring with them last summer, which will be best achieved by moving back to Scotland. He has been a great servant after coming through our academy, but athough he still had a year on his contract we have agreed to release him."

Hamilton partners American Luke Gross tomorrow in what is expected to be a tough battle up front against a side who will be taking no risks as they fight to avoid relegation.

Newcastle winger Michael Stephenson, who was an unused replacement when the Falcons won 22-21 at home to Quins in September, said: "We know from that game they will be trying to slow the ball down at the breakdown. We have been working on a few things to counter that.

"They have good wingers in Ugo Monye and George Harder but they haven't seen much of the ball this season. With them being in a relegation battle they have pretty much resorted to route one rugby and they are very direct in the way they play."

The home game against Quins was one of the few 24-year-old Stephenson has missed and this will be his 23rd start of the season.

He is hoping to add to his seven tries, saying: "As the air gets warmer and the pitches firmer it will suit our game in the closing stages.

"I have had a lot more ball this season. That's something we have worked on in the back line as well as being helped by a stronger pack.

"When a game becomes loose it benefits us and makes for exciting rugby for the fans because we break quickly and use the broken field to put some good play together. But we can't keep letting opponents get a head start."

Jonny Wilkinson is expected to come off the bench for the last half hour after recovering from the knee injury he suffered two months ago.

As the injury was to his left leg it remains to be seen whether he will take over the kicking duties from Dave Walder, who starts at fly half but could switch to full back to accommodate Wilkinson.

Unchanged Darlington will be on their guard against complacency at home to bottom club Bedford Athletic in National Three North as the Midlanders have clearly not given up the fight.

Defeat would pitch Darlington right back into the mire, whereas a second successive win would give them some breathing space in the congested relegation battle.

Darlington Mowden Park have selected from strength up front for their match away to third-placed Bradford and Bingley, with Danny Brown back at tight head and Matt Holmes returning to the bench at the expense of Matt Wright.

With a pack which boasts both experience and ability, Mowden ought to be too good to go down, but they will do well to earn anything against a side determined to overhaul Macclesfield for the promotion play-off place.

The visit of Macclesfield on April 9 will be a crunch game, but first Mowden must win the do-or-die battle at home to Tynedale next week.

Blaydon have skipper Dave Guthrie back for the trip to Dudley Kingswinford after suffering three defeats without him, followed by last week's postponement.

The last time Guthrie returned from injury he had an instant impact in turning a losing run into a winning streak and wins today and at home to Darlington next week would make Blaydon virtually safe. They will expect to win at home to Bedford on April 2 and all the struggling teams feel that three wins will be enough.

Blaydon will be without their first-choice half backs today as Nick Williams has suffered cartilage damage in training and Andy Khan is away on holiday. Micky Dungait makes his first senior appearance since a neck injury in September at scrum half, and will be partnered by Dan Clappison, with Nick Gandy at full back.

Middlesbrough have 60 ex-players coming to cheer them on in the basement battle against Sheffield in North One.

Full back Simon Moore returns after his facial injury, but Dave Richardson is still unfit so Neil Baggett will be at fly half with Andy Micklewright at centre and Ross McNeill on the wing.

Westoe have goal-kicking winger Paul Hagen back for what looks like the North Two East title decider at Huddersfield.

If they lose Westoe will be three points adrift of their hosts, and the last thing they will want is a promotion play-off after their trip to Twickenham for the Intermediate Cup final on April 16.

West Hartlepool switch Jamie Hauxwell, their recent signing from Stockton, from wing to fly half for the visit of Malton and Norton. Skipper David Tighe will be at scrum half with Darren Thomas moving to the wing.