Brewer's arrival cheers West

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High-flown ambition or pure, undiluted masochism? Mike Brewer, the former All Black loose forward who agreed yesterday to take over the reins at West Hartlepool, has embarked on such a mountainous task that he would be well advised to pull in Chris Bonnington as his No 2.

But then, Brewer is not exactly renowned for shirking a challenge. A prodigiously gifted and strikingly intelligent back-row operator for Otago, Canterbury and New Zealand, he was bold enough to turn his back on his country's World Cup bid in 1991 after telling the "Auckland mafia" a few home truths - his opinions were spot on, as the Kiwi campaign subsequently demonstrated - and signed off for good four years later by giving Louis Luyt, the Springbok rugby autocrat, a very public dressing-down.

Brewer replaces Mark Ring, with whom West parted company on Tuesday night following a depressing descent into the black hole of relegation. "There's a lot of work to do," he admitted yesterday, fully aware of his new club's lamentable record of three victories in 38 starts over the last two seasons. "My objective is to develop the team and individuals who can make decisions and if that requires me to play in certain matches next season, I will."

The demands of the rugby directorship means Brewer must sever his ties with the Irish national side and end his association with Blackrock where he has been a player-coach. Brewer plans to watch West's penultimate league fixture with London Irish this afternoon in the company of the caretaker coach, Dave Stubbs, before assuming command early in the close season.

Although most eyes will be on Wasps' championship tussle at Northampton, both Sale and Harlequins face testing examinations as they continue a nip-and-tuck battle for the fourth Heineken Cup qualifying place. The Cheshire club visit Bath, who could still retain their title if Wasps slip up at Franklins Gardens, while Quins lock horns with Leicester at Welford Road.