Two of Scottish rugby's most inspirational performers, Gregor Townsend and Glenn Metcalfe, have shaken off bouts of ill health in time to bid to prove their fitness to take part in the first weekend of Celtic League action.

The absence of the mercurial Townsend from the Borders sides that have played their first two warm-up matches in this inaugural season has been a major disappointment for locals.

However, he has recovered from a throat bug in time for tomorrow night's trip to English Premiership side Sale, who, led by Townsend's international half-back partner Bryan Redpath, got the better of Edinburgh at Meadowbank last weekend.

In public relations terms the timing may prove ideal since it means that arguably the Borders' greatest draw could now make his home debut the first time they ask spectators to pay to see them in next Friday's Celtic League opener against Connacht at Selkirk.

Metcalfe, meanwhile, is set to make his first appearances of both the season and the league campaign away from home since Glasgow visit Ulster tomorrow night before going to Cardiff when the competitive stuff gets underway next weekend.

The full back has been plagued by injuries for the past two years, the shortage of games unquestionably affecting his form and he was only just beginning to look as if he was regaining some confidence when he was hurt again during the Test win over the USA in June.

However, having missed the home meetings with Harlequins and Exeter because of a viral problem, he is expected to be included in an extended Glasgow squad which makes the hop across the sea. Should the thrilling counter-attacker regain the form which helped Scotland claim the 1999 Five Nations' Championship, the Scotland management's options would be increased greatly, having experimented with switching Brendan Laney to the midfield during the summer.

Likewise they will be looking forward to a hopefully revitalised Townsend's return after his summer off and the longer-term prospect - come the autumn Tests - of mixing his experience and that of the likes of Redpath, Scott Murray, Tom Smith and Budge Pountney with the youthful exuberance that was a feature of the summer tour.

Borders team to meet Sale Sharks at Heywood Road tomorrow (ko 7pm)

T Vili; N Walker, S Cranston, K Utterson,

C Murray; C Laidlaw, G Armstrong capt;

P Thomson, S Scott, B Douglas, R Metcalfe, D Weir, A Rennick, C Feather, S Sititi. Replacements: J Stuart, G Townsend,

I Fairley, C Moir, T Walker, C Stewart,

A Davidson, C Dunlea, S Gunn

lPremiership clubs will meet tonight to thrash out how much full-time professional help they will be allowed to call upon in the forthcoming championship.

The new league season gets underway next week and it was expected when agreement was reached on the introduction of a new integrated competition involving club and professional team players during the Six Nations' Championship that the latter would be banned from playing in the main championship.

That was in response to last season's controversies when some clubs clearly benefited more than others when players were released by Edinburgh and Glasgow. Indeed, there seemed to be a considerable difference in the approaches of the managements at the two pro teams, with Glasgow holding on to their players for most of the season while Edinburgh were frequently prepared to give fringe players match practice in the Premiership.

The integrated competition - which will see non-Scottish qualified pro team players and those not required by the various national sides drafted into clubs - was meant to offer a compromise. However, there are now further moves afoot to try to find ways in which the pro team managements can take a combined policy on the issue so that their players can all be kept match-fit throughout the season while hopefully adding extra quality to the club championship.

lAmbitious Premier Two side Ayr have lured centre Stuart Magorian back to Millbrae, writes David Kelso. The former Barrow rugby league player spent the last season with the Italian outfit Treviso, featuring in their Heineken Cup line-up.

Ayr had already snapped up prop Joe Edwards from Scottish league and cup champions Hawick, along with his fellow New Zealander, Glenn Tippett from East Kilbride. Magorian will feature in Saturday's pre-season friendly against Glasgow Hawks at Old Anniesland.

Meanwhile, Phil Davies, the Leeds chairman, was delighted with Gordon Ross' debut, alongside Derek Hegarty, in their pre-season encounter with Llanelli at Stradey Park, despite the 23-20 defeat. Davies said: ''The form of the half-backs was a real bonus. On this evidence I would be very confident over their prospects when the competitive action starts.''