Having had no Christmas break to speak of, Glasgow Caledonian Reds are looking to a trio of leading international players to freshen things up for them ahead of tomorrow's Celtic League derby at Hughenden (kick-off 7.0pm).

Andy Nicol, their captain, Gordon Simpson, and Jason White are all expected to return from injury to be available to help their embattled team-mates when Edinburgh Reivers visit for a match which could ultimately decide which Scottish side will finish further up the league when it is completed in the New Year.

Though some fasting and abstinence were in order, Reivers had a much more relaxing time as they enjoyed the festivities content in the knowledge that they had produced one of their best performances of the season by beating Bridgend on Friday.

That was more than 24 hours before the Reds, having scored the first three tries of the game to lead 17-6 after half an hour, found themselves overhauled in the dying minutes at Neath on Saturday, as they lost 34-29.

''It was a different kind of hurt,'' said Richie Dixon, their coach, as he compared that journey home - which ended in the early hours of Christmas Eve - with some of the previous return trips from Wales over the past two seasons when his men had been well beaten.

''There is some satisfaction in having had the better of the try count and the credibility of the Reds has increased immeasurably in Wales over the past couple of months.

''When you consider that in their previous home match Neath played with 14 men for 75 minutes and beat Newport (they also drubbed the Reivers 48-20 only a month ago at The Gnoll), it was another encouraging performance.

''However, the fact is that we lost down there again and there is still a touch of naivete in our play at times when it comes to closing a game out.

''The match was another outstanding advert for this league, but we know we really should have won this time.''

Looking ahead, Nicol's latest return to action - he has played only one full game this season - will be vital, since Graham Beveridge, his fellow internationalist, having performed exceptionally well in Neath, turned an ankle during the second half and had to be replaced.

James Craig is also extremely doubtful, having tweaked a hamstring early in the match, but his replacement, Shaun Longstaff - yet another of the Reds' international contingent - scored one of his side's tries and generally performed well.

In many ways their confidence should not be damaged too much by this latest setback in Wales, since tomorrow's match will be refereed by one of the sport's finest officials, Jim Fleming.

No-one in the camp was saying so directly, but that description could hardly be applied to Welshman Paul Adams, on the basis of Saturday's performance.

It almost defies belief that a side which manages to score five tries, having had at least 50 per cent of both possession and territory, did not earn a single penalty which offered the chance of a kick at goal.

Meanwhile, kicks ultimately won Neath the game in a match where they were given around 80 per cent of the penalties awarded, while the Reds spent 10 minutes down to 14 men after Alan Bulloch was sin-binned in mysterious circumstances after making a tackle.

Even Welsh observers admitted to some bemusement, but Dixon determinedly refused to be critical of the match official and for his true feeling some reading between the lines was required.

''I am not concerned about our players' discipline,'' he said, when pressed, the logical conclusion being that it would seem necessary to look elsewhere for an explanation of such an unbalanced penalty count.

In the broader sense, Ian Rankin, the Reivers manager, reckoned their 23-13 win over then second-placed Bridgend on Friday would have ensured his men maintained their discipline over Christmas.

''Having got that result I think it will be a bit easier for them to contemplate coming out on Boxing Day to prepare for Wednesday's game,'' he said. ''There might have been a bit of dragging of feet if they had lost.

''In fairness, though, players know they have to make some sacrifices as professional sportsmen and that a hell of a lot of people would love to be having to make them.''

That the significance of tomorrow's match also goes beyond it being just a league match, or even a derby, is not lost on anyone either.

''Some of the players see a lot of importance in this match,'' said Rankin. ''Our boys have been reading about how much better the Reds are supposed to have been doing.

''However, when you look at the season as a whole, this period over Christmas is vital for us, particularly to have the right results behind us going back into Europe next month.''

Though they remain slightly stretched in some areas, the Reivers have enjoyed their best run of the season in terms of fitness. ''After such a bad spell earlier in the season that is the third week in a row that we have managed to escape without a major injury problem,'' said Rankin.

The impression that Reivers' luck may have turned was further emphasised on Friday by the performance of a man who had been missing for most of the season.

Martin Leslie is as important to his side as Andy Nicol is for his and the No.8's first full 80-minute performance in more than three months was a remarkable effort.

''He has actually lost a bit of weight while he has been out and his sharpness is excellent,'' Rankin acknowledged.

As to the possibility of the opposition being slightly jaded because of the toughness of their schedule, the Reds can expect no sympathy.

''It was their call to go ahead on the twenty-seventh. They dictated when it would be played, so the fact that they didn't get back until the early hours of Sunday morning while we have had an extra day's recovery time was up to them,'' said Rankin.

The match seems certain to go ahead barring the most severe of frosts, since Hughenden has been covered throughout the weekend, such is the Reds' determination to avoid adding to what is already a substantial backlog of fixtures.

The sense of urgency is increased by the fact that a full programme in Wales goes ahead today with Swansea - at home to Neath - looking to further extend their advantage at the top after their dramatic win at Llanelli on Saturday.


Andy Nicol's latest return to action will be vital for the Reds

Martin Leslie's first full performance in three months was remarkable