JON Petrie admitted his personal mission on Hogmanay will be to seek out a brick wall to bang his head against - just to satisfy himself once and for all that his achievements in 2000 have not been all one amazing dream.

The Glasgow Caledonian Reds utility forward emerged from relative obscurity to make a significant impact on the Test stage for Scotland after making his debut against New Zealand in Auckland.

His perfect year will be complete if he can help the Reds overcome the other All Blacks, Neath, in today's crucial Celtic League encounter at the Courage Gnoll. Just over 12 months ago, former Dundee HSFP player Petrie was by no means an automatic choice for the Caley back row, but a combination of hard work and opportunism has changed that.

''The year has been like a whirlwind for me,'' he said, ''but despite everything that has happened, the two most important games have yet to come - against Neath, then Edinburgh Reivers at Hughenden on Wednesday.

''Obviously I am thrilled at the progress I have made, but the last thing I want to see happen is for the Reds to finish the year on a low note. We have a huge opportunity to make it four wins in a row and go into 2001 either at the top of the league, or very close to it.

''The guys are really buoyed up after beating Llanelli at McDiarmid Park last weekend and clearly the aim is to carry on where we left off in the last 20 minutes up there. It was a tremendous testament to our fitness and tactical awareness to come back so strongly after being behind for a large portion of the match.''

Petrie admitted: ''It is now about overcoming the problems of playing in Wales. We broke the sequence a couple of weeks ago at Cross Keys and, having proved to ourselves that we could do it, there is no reason why we can't come up with a repeat.

''We are aware that Neath will be a far tougher test than Cross Keys, but in terms of self-belief we are now probably better equipped to deal with that than we have been all season.''

Petrie was backed up by Gareth Flockhart, who is likely to make his comeback in the wake of his long injury lay-off. The utility forward underwent surgery to repair a fractured cheekbone - ironically incurred during the first encounter of the term with Neath at Hughenden.

While frustrated at missing a sizeable chunk of the season, the ever-optimistic Flockhart insisted there had been many positives. He said: ''For a start, I took the chance to get the rest of my body in shape, and I am probably fitter now than I have ever been.

''Thankfully, I have not had any confidence problems as regards taking contact and the couple of matches I had for Stirling County helped immensely in that respect.''

Flockhart grinned: ''Also, if I hadn't been injured I probably wouldn't have been given the opportunity to go to the Trinidad Sevens with Rugby Ecosse.

''It was a fantastic trip and certainly played a part in my rehab.

''It was great to play on hard pitches with the sun on your back.''

Caley coach Richie Dixon is also convinced his men can at last claim a major scalp on Welsh soil. He said: ''Despite the fact that the Pontypridd match a few weeks ago was abandoned, it turned out to be something of a watershed for us.

''The result may have been cancelled out, but in real terms it was a psychological victory for us and we now have the chance to build on it. We proved again last weekend that this is a group of players who have what it takes to overcome strong Welsh teams.

''The determination and fitness levels of the guys at McDiarmid Park were tremendous and we have to go to The Gnoll with the same attitude.''

Neath coach Lyn Jones admitted he was apprehensive about the visit of the Reds. He said: ''They were very impressive in beating us in Scotland back in September and we will have our work cut out if we are to gain revenge.''

He added: ''There are lots of very important matches over the next couple of weeks and the competition will really start to take shape as a result of what happens.''

Brett Sinkinson will undergo a fitness test before Neath reveal their line-up. Teams:

Neath (from) - A Booth, Mark Davies, Mefin Davies, T Davies, N Bonner-Evans, R Francis, P Horgan, A Howell, A Jackson, G John, P Jones, D Jones, S Jones, G Llewellyn, S Martin, A Millward, R Phillips, B Sinkinson, J Storey, T Tieuti, K Tuipulotu, D Williams, J Williams.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - A Bulloch; J Steel, J McLaren, J Stuart, J Craig; T Hayes, G Beveridge; D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Campbell, C Stewart, R Reid D Macfadyen, J Petrie. Replacements: D Hall, A Watt, S Griffiths, G Flockhart, F Stott, S Longstaff, M McKenzie.