AS his side face what he believes to be British rugby's form side, Glasgow Caledonian Reds coach Richie Dixon has been able to reap the reward of his cautious approach to selection in the early weeks of the season.

Tonight's Celtic League clash between his third-placed Reds and defending champions Cardiff at Hughenden (ko 7pm) sees internationalists Glenn Metcalfe and Stewart Campbell make their first starts of the season as Dixon finds himself in the rare position of enjoying an embar- rassment of riches.

Consequently, Tommy Hayes has been included, while Dixon rests Mark McKenzie and the man Metcalfe replaces, Rowen Shepherd, who has been in exceptional form recently, while shifting Jason White to his international slot at blindside flanker. ''These are professional players who must be looked after and not abused. We have mapped out their progress and tried to bleed them in at the right time,'' said Dixon.

Hayes' reaction reflected the competition for places Dixon wanted to create by trying to nurse his squad to full fitness at this crucial stage.

''It's been a slow start to the season due to injury and being on the bench, but I couldn't expect much more with the way Mark has been playing,'' said the Cook Islands player, one of 13 caps in the Reds starting line-up.

''It is good for the team, though because there are huge amounts of competition out there.

''I actually thought after Mark's performance last week that Europe was going to be a struggle to get the No.10 jersey, but I've got an opportunity now and it's a matter of getting out there and performing.''

That improved strength in depth also forced Dixon into a decision which saw him come under fire from Craig Chalmers after he was left out of the squad for Europe.

''I would have been upset if he had been happy, because his reaction shows that he is still keen to be part of what we are doing,'' said the coach.

Dixon knows, though, that as well as offering his side a chance to enhance their Celtic League chances if they can upset the leaders, this match will ask pertinent questions of those he has selected ahead of the European challenge.

''I've watched a number of their games and a number of English Premiership games and believe Cardiff are playing as well as anyone in the UK at the moment,'' he said.

''This is a huge challenge because, with no disrespect to anyone else, they are playing two or three levels above anyone we have met and their results show that.''

Glasgow Caledonian Reds: G Metcalfe; S Longstaff, A Bulloch, I Jardine, J Craig; T Hayes, G Beveridge; D Hilton, G Bulloch (capt), S Griffiths, S Campbell, J White, G Simpson, J Petrie. Replacements - G Scott, A Watt, D Burns, M Waite, F Stott, M McKenzie, R Shepherd Cardiff: M Rayer; N Walne, G Thomas, P Muller, C Morgan; N Jenkins, R Howley capt; S John, D Geraghty, G Powell, J Tait, M Voyle, O Williams, M Willams, E Lewis. Replacements from - P Jones, R Powell, J Robinson, R Williams, I Jones, J Humphreys, A Lewis, C Quinnell, W Fyvie, G Kacala, D Baugh.