NEWCASTLE have put skipper Doddie Weir on the bench for tomorrow's Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final at home to London Irish.

The 30-year-old former British Lions lock suddenly finds himself competing with fellow Scot Stuart Grimes to play alongside Hugh Vyvyan, who has been in excellent form recently.

Weir has started virtually every game for the Falcons this season, but has been replaced early in the second half of the last two matches by Grimes.

This time Grimes will start as Newcastle attempt to avenge Tuesday night's 19-17 defeat, which cost them the chance to go second in the Premiership.

The cup is their lesser priority and the Premiership clubs would not have been in it this season had Rob Andrew's blueprint for the future of the game been implemented.

The Newcastle supremo still has mixed feelings about the cup, but would dearly like to win it after going close two years ago, when the Falcons lost to Wasps in the final.

"A decision has to be taken about the cup as there are so many demands on the time available," he said. "But any self-respecting player or club enters a competition to win it. There's a final at Twickenham and that's a wonderful incentive for any player."

Newcastle fielded their second choice half back pairing of David Walder and Hall Charlton on Tuesday, but Jonny Wilkinson and Gary Armstrong return tomorrow, with Armstrong captaining the team.

They are without No 8 Ross Beattie, who has a broken nose and a knee problem, and centre Jamie Noon, who has not recovered from the ankle injury which forced him off after 36 minutes on Tuesday.

Former Worcester player Jim Jenner comes into the back row and Liam Botham switches to centre with his former West Hartlepool team-mate Gareth Maclure on the wing.

Maclure provides real pace, as he showed when scoring his first Premiership try at Leicester last season. He has had some injury troubles since, but is now preferred to Epi Taione, who is on the bench.

It will be four years in February since Botham made his West debut as a centre, where he had played all his schoolboy rugby.

The fact that Inga Tuigamala can also play there underlines why it was not essential for Newcastle to hang on to the disappointing John Leslie.

His reputation appears untarnished, however, as both Northampton and Leicester are interested in signing him.

Waterloo full back Phil Belgain, the former West and Newcastle player, has a hamstring injury and has been ruled out of today's quarter-final at Sale.

With some games likely to fall victim to waterlogged pitches today, Darlington Mowden Park will be relieved they are playing on Hull Ionians' well-drained ground.

After next week's game at Stockton they face a three-week gap and will have four North One games to rearrange.

With Del Lewis unavailable, they retain Giles Mitchell in the back row and will be hoping hooker Tasi Tuhana is inspired by the birth of a daughter on Thursday.

With Chris Mattison and Mick Kent on the wings, Steve Jones is on the bench alongside another former Middlesbrough player, flanker Shaun Cassidy.

Boro have Ashley Parker on their bench for the trip to Wigton as he will shortly be having a plate removed from his leg so Andrew Baggett is being given the chance to play at fly half.

Jon Wrigley returns at scrum half and the experienced Tony Wilkinson, who missed last season, comes in for injured lock Dave Hinchley.

Leaders Blaydon go to Macclesfield with the same team which relished last week's Intermediate Cup trip to Aldwinians.

Blaydon have been drawn at home in the fifth round on January 6 to Old Laurentians, who are based in Rugby and play in Midlands Two West.

Darlington have re-signed army prop Rob Jones from Harrogate and he is in the team for the trip to West Park Bramhope as Joe Osleton is unable to travel. Phil Lancaster is on the bench.

The hosts are third from the bottom of North Two East and Darlington are looking for another big win, while hoping third-placed Redcar can give leaders Halifax a fright.

Robbie Stewart partners Nick Gregory at half back with David Andrew on the bench alongside John Whitehouse, who is kept out of the blind side berth by Bryan Dixon.

With their match against Bradford and Bingley to be played at Keighley on December 23, Stockton have arranged a visit from an Otley A XV today. Dave Cooke and Wayne Brown return, but Andy Cowell is out with concussion and Simon Crozier has a shoulder injury