On a memorable night at Hughenden the Reds joined Cardiff at the top of the Celtic League by ending the defending champions unbeaten record in this season's competition.

For the third time in succession they left it late and, once again, there was room for mixed emotions as they savoured having won another cliffhanger that would have been lost a year ago, but cursed themselves for failing to take the chances which could have made the game safe much earlier.

That said, on a night when they played with great verve and wonderful enterprise in front of a crowd of around 4500, there was nothing but deep satisfaction to be taken from outlasting the team which rattled up 80 points the last time they faced Scottish opposition, when the Reivers visited the Welsh capital earlier this month.

Furthermore, the win was sealed in the least likely fashion imaginable when Neil Jenkins pulled a long range penalty wide of the target, not having missed previously.

''If he had kicked the goal we wouldn't have deserved to lose, but I was almost surprised that he missed, even from that range,'' admitted Reds coach Richie Dixon.

''We gave away another silly score when they got their try in the first half, but that was the only time we made the sort of mistake that we have been making too frequently.

''We should have scored more points in the first half as well, but I have been in the game long enough to know we have taken a wee step forward tonight and some of the rugby was of a very high standard,'' he pointed out.

Buoyed by the confidence of knowing that no Welsh side had won in Scotland this season, the Reds opening was hugely impressive and their opening try, when it came, was thoroughly deserved following a fine passage of play.

Jon Petrie, Gordon McIlwham, and Stewart Campbell had all made good ground deep in the Cardiff 22 before the ball was shifted wide left and Alan Bulloch hit the line at pace.

He was stopped just short but when the ball was recycled and moved right, back row man Gordon Simpson off-loaded brilliantly when held up three yards out to let McIlwham plunge over the line, Hayes adding the conversion.

With Hayes punting imperiously and Metcalfe and fellow internationalist Shaun Longstaff looking full of running, the Reds continued to dominate.

Yet their failure to put points on the board when in control was again exposed as Cardiff reduced the leeway with a rare incursion into their territory through the ultra-reliable boot of Neil Jenkins.

Still the Reds poured forward and, as they forced Cardiff into errors and infringements, Hayes put over two penalties to extend the lead.

Another old failing reared its head after the second of Hayes' penalties, though, as concentration was lost allowing Cardiff to find a way through.

Nothing looked on when Jamie Robinson chipped speculatively midway inside the Reds half, but Metcalfe and Nick Walne both went for the dropping ball soccer- style and it broke for the winger, who gathered it just short to score close to the posts.

Jenkins conversion was followed by an equalising penalty kick and both he and Hayes added further penalties in injury time to keep things level at the interval.

The overwhelming impression was that the Reds, having had so much of the play, had missed their chance.

However, a blistering Metcalfe run signalled their intention of keeping up the pace and the pressure told when Cardiff winger Craig Morgan was sin-binned for tugging a jersey of a a supporting runner as Metcalfe again threatened to break through.

Hayes put over the penalty and sustained excellence, as the Reds backs and forwards stretched play to either side of the field at tremendous pace, was eventually rewarded when Metcalfe produced an astonishingly accurate pass as he was grounded just short to send Hayes flying over the line.

After Jenkins brought them back within range with another penalty, though, Cardiff upped the ante by bringing on Rob Howley and the Welsh international scrum half made an immediate impact, nipping down the blindside from a close range maul to score the try which let Jenkins put Cardiff ahead for the first time.

Hayes then missed a penalty and was replaced by Mark McKenzie who immediately pulled a drop goal attempt wide.

However, the replacement's nerve held, however, when he got his first penalty chance from just inside the Cardiff 10-metre line and that rarest of occurences, a missed Jenkins penalty - admittedly from halfway and close to the right touchline - was Cardiff's last chance to snatch the win deep in injury time.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - G Metcalfe; S Longstaff, A Bulloch, I Jardine, J Craig; T Hayes (M McKenzie 71min), G Beveridge; D Hilton, G Bulloch, S Griffiths, S Campbell, J White (M Waite 40), G Simpson, J Petrie

Cardiff - R Williams; N Walne, J Robinson, P Muller (G Thomas 77), C Morgan; N Jenkins, R Powell (R Howley 63); A Lewis, J Humphreys, S John, J Tait (C Quinnell 29), M Voyle, G Kacala (W Fyvie 69), D Baugh, O Williams.

Referee: P Thomas (France).

Scoring sequence (Reds first): 7-0, 7-3, 10-3, 13-3, 13-10, 13-13, 16-13, 16-16(half-time); 19-16, 24-16, 24-19, 24-26, 27-26.

Scorers: Reds: Tries - McIlwham (5), Hayes (53); Conversion - Hayes (5); Penalties - Hayes (20, 29, 40, 43), McKenzie (74).

Cardiff: Tries: Walne (31), Howley (63); Conversions - Jenkins (31,63); Penalties - Jenkins (17, 38, 40, 56).