OFF THE CUFF

WEST Hartlepool have signed promising youngster Phil Cuff who is set to make an immediate debut in tomorrow's trip to Rugby Lions.

WEST Hartlepool have signed promising youngster Phil Cuff who is set to make an immediate debut in tomorrow's trip to Rugby Lions. The pacy 18-year-old three-quarter, who will play full-back at Webb Ellis Road, joins the club after impressing as a player with Yarm School.

His arrival comes thanks to one of West's assistant coaches, Stuart Whitehead, who is a teacher at the private school.

West have had a number of players from Yarm in the last two seasons, the best being winger Anthony Elliott who had a spell at the Friarage last year before moving to Sale Sharks.

The son of former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Pat Cuff, Phil was at Nottingham last Saturday to watch his new team in action.

"He's been to a couple of training sessions and he is very rapid," was the assessment of player-coach John Stabler.

"Speed is his best asset but he has good ball skills and Stuart (Whitehead) and other people I've spoken to says he is a good player."

Cuff will play full-back tomorrow with Mark Laycock, another 18-year-old, moving forward to stand-off to deputise for Stabler, who has a knee injury.

Laycock teams up with David Tighe who resumes at scrum-half after being unavailable last week.

Mark Thompson will be out for three weeks after his neck injury last Saturday, which means he will also miss next weekend's visit of Kendal.

With Thompson out, Stabler re-unites Allan Milne and Paul Hutton in the midfield and the impressive pairing are likely to be busy tomorrow against the dangerous Rugby.

Adam Falkner switches to the wing to cover Milne's move to the centre.

West retain the same pack after their fine effort at Beeston last Saturday. They performed their primary functions well, being solid in the scrums and line-outs, while flankers Andrew Laycock and Henry Tones did Herculean work in the loose.

It was West's 17th straight defeat, but they did show some signs of improvement.

Tomorrow is expected to be defeat number 18 and West must try as hard as they did at Nottingham to keep the score to a respectable level.

"We always knew this was going to be a hard month for us," said Stabler.

"Once we get this and Kendal out of the way next week, we can get back to some sort of normality we'll have a few home games where we have something of a fighting chance.

"We'll just have to play as hard as we did in the second half at Nottingham last week."

Rugby are potential National League Two champions and to emphasise the difference between the two clubs, the Lions have spent some 50,000 on one player this season, to pay for his signing-on fee, wages and car.

Coached by ex-Sale and Bedford director of rugby Paul Turner, Rugby have even had the luxury of releasing the outstanding Kiwi stand-off Barry John Muir who led West a merry dance when the Lions won 57-8 at Brinkburn last October.

Rugby have signed the Cambridge University half-back pairing of Mark Edwards and Simon Amor and they make their debuts tomorrow.

Hard-running South African Jacques Steyn bought by Rugby on the Internet who has been playing stand-off and centre, makes his first appearance at full-back.

Up front, Tim Collier, who spent a spell at West in the Premiership on loan from Harlequins two years ago, has returned to Rugby after a failed move to Bridgend.

Rugby Lions: J Steyn, E Saunders, I Hyde, M Tassell, J Hands, S Amor, M Edwards, P Greenbury, M Kwisiuk, P Shadbolt, T Collier, R Field, S Tovo, O Wingham, P Thompson. Subs: P Turner, M Davies, R Harding

West: P Cuff, G Clark, P Hutton, A Milne, A Falkner, M Laycock, D Tighe, M Cholmondley, C Robinson, B Cullinane (capt), C Webb, A Davies, H Tones, A Laycock, D Wright. Subs: M Challenor, S Whitehead, M Cook.