aScotland stand-off Duncan Hodge has been forced to pull out of tonight's Celtic League derby after being told unexpectedly yesterday that he requires knee surgery.

The scorer of all Scotland's points in April's Calcutta Cup win had been set to return to the Edinburgh Reivers side for the meeting with Glasgow Caledonian Reds at Myreside (kick-off 7pm).

He had trained well at the Scotland squad get-together at Murrayfield on Monday, suffered no reaction on Tuesday, and had done speed work on the track with the only minor problem having been some pain when kicking a ball, before being told yesterday that the surgeon had found a small tear in the cartilage.

''It was a bit of a shock,'' admitted Reivers manager Ian Rankin. ''He felt he was 100 per cent and we had named him in the side when we announced it to the players before training this morning.

''However the good news is that they have been able to perform the operation immediately and, because he has been training, the recovery time will be much shorter.''

Hodge is expected to be back in action before the end of the month and Reivers embarrassment of riches at stand-off is such that they have been able to keep Scotland's rising star Chris Paterson in reserve.

Instead, Gordon Ross maintains his place in what now becomes an unchanged side from that which faced Bridgend last Saturday.

Ross made a remarkable season's debut for Reivers last week scoring all 28 points in the 28-25 win over Llanelli at Netherdale and Rankin paid tribute to his attitude.

''Gordon and Duncan offer different qualities, but Gordon would be the first to admit that things didn't go as well for him in Bridgend,'' he noted.

''However, his mental strength is the reason we had no problem in telling the players Duncan was playing, knowing there was chance we would have to change that.

''Duncan was obviously very disappointed when he had to pull out, but Gordon just got on with it as we knew he would.''

Ross also demonstrated that psychological toughness during the win over Llanelli, putting in a far from flawless display but readily recovering from each of his mistakes.

''He is one of a group of younger players who have only known senior rugby in the open era so are very, very professional in outlook,'' said Rankin, also including Paterson in that number.

To that end, he noted that their international full back has rapidly taken on board the lessons of his last appearance from the bench, at Cardiff a fortnight ago, as he prepares to make an impact if and when he comes on this time.

''Chris has learned so much from that experience, particularly that he can't do everything himself, even if it sometimes looks to the rest of us as if he can,'' laughed Rankin.

''He has been finding this season that there is not so much space now that opponents are more aware of him and the problem in Cardiff was that he tried to force things too much.''

All of which said, it is a huge luxury to the Reivers management to be able to name an unchanged side for the first time this season.

''It gives the guys a chance to settle down,'' said Rankin.

''We noticed when we were in Bridgend that they have fielded the same back line for four consecutive games which has clearly contributed to their successful run.''

Both Scottish sides were beaten by those league leaders last week, but like the Reivers the Reds have stuck with very similar personnel since, making only once enforced change to the side for tonight's match with fit again Roland Reid replacing the injured Gareth Flockhart in the back row.

They benefited from keeping changes to a minimum following the Bridgend defeat when they defeated Neath a week ago and their coach Richie Dixon has made it clear that if the team is winning it will be very difficult for others to force their way in.

''Going back to the start of the season I said that if they showed that they have got the hunger for it they would keep their places and there are much stronger signs that they have that,'' he said of the win over Neath.

''This is, though, an away game even though it is in Scotland and we haven't been performing away from home.

''We are very conscious that the Reivers, a bit like ourselves, have shown their better form at home.''

A combination of that advantage and the fact that the Reivers have accrued their six points from a slightly tougher looking schedule makes them slight favourites tonight.

However it promises to be a fascinating battle at the end of a week which began with that first national squad session of the season with so many members of both sides involved there.

On the face of it, the two packs look pretty evenly matched, so much will depend on the decision making at half-back where scrum halves Graeme Burns and Graham Beveridge - one cap apiece - will be working with uncapped pair Ross and Mark McKenzie.

The latter was the one Reds player singled out for criticism by Dixon last week after some aimless kicking, but he is a much improved player compared with the one who left Scotland for French rugby two years ago and has taken those comments to heart.

''The great thing about Mark is that, just like his brother Kevin (the former Scotland hooker) he is a very hard competitor,'' Dixon observed.

Edinburgh Reivers - D Lee; C Murray, K Utterson, G Shiel, K Milligan; G Ross, G Burns; A Jacobsen, S Scott, B Stewart, I Fullarton, R Metcalfe, N Hines, G Dall, S Taylor. Replacements - P Robertson, C Smith, A Lucking, A Dall, I Fairley, D Officer, C Paterson.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - R Shepherd; J Steel, A Bulloch, J Stuart, J Craig; M McKenzie, G Beveridge; D Hilton, G Bulloch capt, G McIlwham, S Griffiths, J White, R Reid, G Simpson, J Petrie. Replacements - G Scott, L Harrison, D Burns, M Waite, C Black, T Hayes, I Jardine.