Cross Keys v

Glasgow Caley Reds

THE Glasgow Caley squad made their latest wearying coach journey to South Wales yesterday more in hope than expectation - not regarding the result of their tussle with Celtic League basement boys Cross Keys today, but whether the match would go ahead at all.

To the amazement of home club officials, referee Darren Edwards gave the thumbs-up after inspecting the Pandy Park surface shortly before lunch time.

In the wake of the abandoned encounter with Pontypridd a fortnight ago, Glasgow Caley Reds coach Richie Dixon would be far from amused if the further threatened downpours were to take a decisive hand this morning.

Horace Jefferies, the Cross Keys spokesman who accompanied Edwards on the squelchy trudge around the pitch, admitted: ''I am extremely surprised that he gave the go ahead.

''After the dreadful weather throughout the night, we did not think there was any chance, but we also didn't want to take a decision to call off the

match without consulting the referee.

''All we can do now is hope that the next deluge isn't as heavy as predicted and that Glasgow won't have made a fruitless journey.''

Roland Reid, the flanker, is one Reds player who will be particularly keen to make a meaningful impression as he makes his first competitive start for several weeks.

The South African-born speed-merchant admitted he had been involved in discussions with Dixon and Ian McGeechan, the national coach, about a potential move to wing, but stressed that at the moment he would concentrate on his back-row duties.

''There has been a bit of talk about that,'' he said. ''And it is something that might happen later in my career.

''But for now, all I am focusing on is performing well in what- ever role Richie wants me in and helping the Reds beat Cross Keys.

''I am excited about starting the game. Gordon Simpson was unlucky to pick up his rib injury against Swansea - he has been playing pretty well and it will be a huge task for me to match him.

''After losing to Swansea, the aim is to win all four matches before the New Year, otherwise we run the risk of becoming isolated from the likes of them and Cardiff. We also have a game in hand and we must make that count.''

Reid added: ''The outcome at Perth last weekend was very frustrating because we controlled large portions of the contest.

''It was the basic things that let us down like general handling - and we have worked really hard throughout the week to make sure there is no repeat of those errors.''

Another Caley man who is thrilled to be figuring from the start today is Colin Stewart, the rookie lock, who has held his place despite the return to fitness of Steve Griffiths and availability of Darren Burns.

Stewart said: ''I was lucky to get the chance in the first place when other players were hit by injury and illness. But to be kept on when they are around means a great deal to me - and puts pressure on me to keep improving.

''I felt I performed reasonably well against Swansea, but it is the result that counts and in the circumstances I doubted if I had done enough to avoid being dropped. When I signed for Caley, I was just happy to be around the squad and learn from them.

''I never imagined for a moment that I would be given an opportunity to play at this level, but I will understand fully if and when Richie decides to bring back his more established people.''

Cross Keys spokesman Jefferies, meanwhile, confessed it would require a miraculous performance from his relegation-haunted side to beat the Scots.

He said: ''It is daunting for us when we look down the Glasgow team-list and see so many seasoned internationalists.

''We realise that both they and Edinburgh Reivers have found it difficult to win in Wales, but on paper we shouldn't have an earthly chance.

''Obviously, the conditions will be extremely heavy and our hope is that the Caledonian lads will be brought down to our level.''

However, Dixon is refusing to take the challenge of Cross Keys lightly.

The Welsh club have failed to pick up a single point from their nine matches this season but the Reds coach is determined that conditions will not upset the odds.

''This is one of the games we have really got to win,'' said Dixon. ''The weather could make the game a bit of a lottery but we have got to make sure that we are ready for all eventualities. We have to expect the unexpected.''

Cross Keys include Keith Stewart, the former Scotland A lock, among their substitutes. The Arbroath-born Stewart seemed destined to be involved in the full national squad four years ago when he played a prominent role in Cardiff's European Cup campaign which saw them reach the final against Toulouse.

A series of injuries halted his progress, however, and now he is back in Wales following a spell with Bedford.

Cross Keys - C Bushell; S Crane, M McCarthy, G Bowen, S Reed; J Webb, T Walsh; I Evans, L Gardner, D Crimmins, D Davies, N Kelly, A Gibbs, A Howarth (captain), W Thomas.

Replacements - R Davies, C Ellis, G Stroud, D Sherwood, K Stewart, R Williams, P Watkins.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - A Bulloch; J Steel, J McLaren, J Stuart, J Craig; T Hayes, A Nicol (captain); D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Campbell, C Stewart, R Reid, D Macfadyen, J Petrie.

Replacements - C di Ciacca, A Watt, S Griffiths, D Burns, G Beveridge, B Irving, S Longstaff.

Referee - D Edwards (Tredegar).