Pontypridd v Glasgow Caley.

Nine competitive meetings with Pontypridd - no victories.

That is the competitive record of all Scotland's professional sides which places the challenge facing Glasgow Caledonian Reds at Sardis Road today into its proper perspective.

On the face of it, with only six internationalists in the squad named for today's game, the men from the Rhondda Valley should not be the most formidable of Welsh opponents.

Yet both Edinburgh and the Borders had lost to them in Europe before the Reds were beaten by them home and away in 1998 and, even following Neil Jenkins' defection to Cardiff last season, the only Celtic League point either Scottish side claimed was when the Reivers drew at Pontypridd.

While no Scottish side has won in Wales this season, though, there should be no better time to make this particular trip.

Pontypridd lost their last two matches heavily against Newport and Llanelli, while the club is railing against being labelled the bad boys of European rugby by tournament organisers, chief executive Cennydd Thomas using the club's website to reject out of hand tournament chairman Jean-Pierre Lux's claim of having met with Pontypridd officils to warn them about their behaviour.

Reds coach Richie Dixon knows how foolish it would be, though, to expect Pontypridd to back off when roared on by a large and vocal support.

''Their form is irrelevant,'' he said, aware that the return to fitness of former Wales and Scotland B flanker Dale McIntosh, full back Craig Williams and prop Sven Cronk will have lifted Ponrypridd.

''They have a lot of new players and have obviously taken time to settle, but like all Welsh sides they know they have to perform in front of their home fans,'' he added.

The Reds must guard against over-excitement at their own recent run of form and, in particular, last week's dramatic win over Celtic League champions Cardiff and the manner of its reception by their own supporters.

Yet that should not be confused with the sort of enthusiasm currently exuding from the one individual on either side today who knows all about European success.

For many, the Heineken Cup represents the highest level of rugby they will play this season and for Reds prop Dave Hilton, ineligible to play for Scotland again until the end of next season, that is most conspicuously the case.

''The Reds is a big stage for me anyway, no matter the competition, and I have been taking the league games very seriously, but psychologically I suppose Europe is a much bigger thing,'' he admitted.

''I've been all the way before and won it with Bath and once you have a taste for something like that you never want to lose it.''

Certainly, his body language has noticeably become more strident in the past couple of weeks.

Understandably, he seemed a little subdued in the early weeks of this season as he adjusted to facing a season with no prospect of Test rugby, but his was the score which separated the Reds and Edinburgh Reivers in their Celtic League derby a fortnight ago and he was back to his ebullient best against Cardiff.

''Despite what happened earlier in the year I am really enjoying life with the Reds and had a great summer building myself up to be faster and fitter than I have ever been,'' Hilton pointed out.

Consequently, he is in the ideal frame of mind to offer maximum help to front-row colleague Gordon Bulloch, who leads the side today and the man with whom Hilton won the Heineken Cup, Scotland and Reds captain Andy Nicol, who has returned to their squad for the first time this season.

''We are determined to fulfil our potential and reach the quarter-finals at least,'' he said of a side which contains just two uncapped players, while Nicol and his vastly experienced fellow cap Rowen Shepherd are on the bench.

Nor is anyone in the camp under any illusion as to the significance of this particular match, which could set the Reds up for the rest of the campaign.

''A lot of the Welsh sides have obviously got a low opinion of us and they and their fans will expect to beat us down there,'' Hilton observed, having also pointed out that they must learn from last week's experience when Cardiff should have been put away early, yet almost snatched victory right at the death.

''Our away record speaks for itself, so I suppose Pontypridd have every reason to feel confident, but I know we are capable of producing a performance down there.

''It would be an enormous boost to win when you look at last season's Heineken Cup and especially our group.''

That was an astonishingly competitive pool in which no side won away from home until Stade Francais beat the Reds and Leinster won at Leicester in the final round of matches, so the confidence boost that could be taken into consecutive home matches against Leicester and Pau this season from an overdue win in Wales would be enormous.

''To do it at the very start would be such a morale booster and would set us up wonderfully for the rest of the competition,'' said Hilton.

Recent form suggests they should do it, if the lessons of history have been absorbed. Teams:

Pontypridd: (from) Backs - B Davey, R Johnson, J Colderley, L Woodard, S Parker, J Bryant, L Jarvis, P John; Forwards - C Loader, F Vunipola, S Cronk, W James, R Sidoli, B Cockbain, D McIntosh, R Parks, M Owen.

Replacements - R Neville, C Sweeney, C Williams, J Evans, P Graham, M Lloyd

Glasgow Caledonian Reds: G Metcalfe; S Longstaff, A Bulloch, I Jardine, J Craig; T Hayes, G Beveridge; D Hilton, G Bulloch capt, G McIlwham, S Griffiths, S Campbell, J White, G Simpson, J Petrie.

Replacements from - A Nicol, M McKenzie, R Shepherd, A Watt, G Scott, R Reid, M Waite.