aAndy Nicol, the Glasgow Caledonian Reds captain, is hoping his presence at Cross Keys tomorrow can help ensure that more than one first has been achieved by the end of 80 minutes.

As Nicol makes his first start of the season, approaching four months into a Celtic League campaign which began in August, so it remains the case that neither Scottish side has won in Wales this season and, indeed, they have rarely looked like doing so.

Furthermore, Edinburgh Reivers' midweek defeat at the hands of second-bottom Ebbw Vale was a timely reminder to the Reds that nothing can be taken for granted in this competition, even when facing a team yet to win a match since being promoted into this league.

The captain believes, though, that tomorrow's match represents a major opportunity and hopes his own attitude can help raise any spirits that may have been subdued by the dismal run of visits to the Principality.

''I got on for a few minutes at the end last week but the game was over by then, so this is the real start of my season and I'm extremely excited,'' said the man who led Scotland to last April's Calcutta Cup win.

Since then, he has been one of a number of Reds players to be plagued by knee injuries, the latest of which was revealed yesterday.

Gav Scott, the reserve hooker, has finally had a niggling knee injury - suffered a month ago since when he has continued playing and training regularly - diagnosed as a fracture of the kneecap which will keep him sidelined until the new year.

He originally thought he had suffered no more than a knock, a situation similar to that of Glenn Metcalfe, the Scotland full back, who has also, it transpires, suffered a fractured kneecap and is unlikely to play again this year.

Nicol's knee injuries, too, seemed innocuous when they happened, yet have kept him sidelined for much longer than expected.

''I have never been short of enthusiasm, but the frustration just makes me all the more determined to help the team lift themselves because this is a massive game,'' he said.

''A couple of weeks ago down there we would have gone clear at the top of the league if we had gone on the way we were doing before the rain washed the game out at half-time.

''However now, because of a combination of that postponement, our defeat by Swansea at the weekend, and the fact that we didn't play in midweek when everyone else did, we are six points behind the leaders.''

This weekend's forecast is such that, Reivers having had to stay down in Ebbw Vale an extra night to play their midweek match, Cross Keys will inspect their pitch this morning to attempt to avoid the Reds making an unnecessary journey.

That, though, would only add to the frustration not only of Nicol personally but of the team collectively.

''We need to get the games played. That is what it is all about. Come hell or high water we want to get games played,'' was the apt observation of coach Richie Dixon.

That said, he had been reluctantly forced to agree with referee Nigel Owens that the storm which swept across the valleys last month had rendered Sardis Road unfit for anything other than mud wrestling, and he accepts that there would be nothing to be gained by making an unnecessary journey.

Furthermore, accepted wisdom would be that if the day is vile, but the weather is playable, they would operate as a leveller.

Dixon may, though, have good reason for hoping the game will go ahead in poor conditions on the evidence of the past fortnight.

After all, after giving a fine exhibition of high-paced, well-directed rugby on that grim night in Pontypridd, the Reds, presented with the superb surface that is Perth's McDiarmid Park last Sunday, played recklessly and consequently deserved to lose to Swansea.

While disappointed with his men's poor decision making and inability to protect the ball in contact against Swansea, though, Dixon rightly remains more heavily influenced by the impressive 40 minutes his side put together in Pontypridd.

As a consequence, other than the return of Nicol, the only changes to the side are down to injuries.

Jason White, the Scotland flanker who has been playing regularly in the second row, probably could have been risked in an emergency, but is rested after slightly straining his knee last weekend.

However, Gordon Simpson, his international colleague, will be out for most of the month due to the rib damage he suffered.

However, their replacements hardly weaken the side, Stewart Campbell, the highly experienced lock, and Roland Reid, the pacy young back row man, both having toured with Scotland last summer.

Admittedly, they are very different players to the men they replace, but the overall balance of the pack should not be significantly affected.

That Dixon feels able to leave White out of his 22 is the latest indication that the Reds' playing resources are stronger than at any stage this season, Steve Griffiths, the lock, having also returned to the squad after a month out.

Yet their back-up resources have been further eaten into with Scott's injury meaning that Carlo di Ciacca, the West of Scotland captain who played in the Reds two European Cup ties against Pau in October, has been recalled to their squad. Team:

A Bulloch; J Steel, J McLaren, J Stuart, J Craig; T Hayes, A Nicol; 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.