Caledonian Reds22

Swansea 42

While coach Richie Dixon criticised his side's option-taking as they plunged into the lower half of the Celtic League, so the Reds' off-field decision-making deserved some scrutiny after a match watched by fewer than 900 customers at Perth's McDiarmid Park.

Both coaches paid tribute to the quality of the playing surface, which helped their men maintain a fearsome pace. Certainly St Johnstone's home is a superb setting for rugby. However, when playing league rugby, numerous and voluble home supporters are desirable. Both were sadly lacking.

''I don't know whether people want us to come here,'' wondered a frustrated Dixon. ''Whether it is our marketing and advertising I am not sure, or whether people here just find it difficult to come.

''I do know that had we been at Hughenden it would have been a bigger crowd.''

How much the absence of that backing prevented them from driving home the advantage after narrowing the gap to within a score midway through the second half is a matter for conjecture.

Instead, the Reds' efforts tailed away to the extent that in the closing minutes, facing only 13 men, they actually dropped further behind.

In truth, though, the real damage was done during a first half in which the ''home'' side claimed an early lead as both teams made it clear that they intended to play an open, attacking game.

James Craig's break from deep which took play into the Swansea half was vintage stuff, the winger again looking eager for involvement, as did fellow-international exile Gordon Simpson, whose well-weighted chip ultimately let Jon Steel slide in to score.

Swansea responded through internationalist Colin Charvis, who worked his way over from a close- range ruck to score the first of a hat-trick of tries.

The Reds were then struck with a double blow when Alan Bulloch's ill-judged crossfield chip was caught by Shaun Payne and returned some 80 metres, moments before the fired-up Simpson left the field with rib damage.

Charvis' second try was a debatable one, his second movement when stopped short of the line adjudged to have been immediate - by no means referee Rob Dickson's only strange decision - but the pattern was established.

Playing with verve and ambition the Reds were also reckless in contact, while Swansea gradually became more assured as time elapsed, an Arwel Thomas drop goal making their half-time advantage 15 points.

''It was a very fast and high- quality game for most of the way, but, not for the first time, we contributed greatly to our own defeat,'' admitted Dixon, who criticised his side's over-enthusiasm.

''We are going to stay true to the type of rugby we are trying to play, but our composure and individual decision making needs to become much, much better.

''The game turned on the breakaway try on the kick when it went from 7-7 to 7-12. We were pressing there and if we had just retained possession perhaps we could have developed further.

''However, it's a cruel game when you don't have the ball and we gave it away far too often in critical situations when a bit of patience and composure might well have brought about a different outcome.

''The pace of the game was very good, and some of our combined play was also very good, but in making that last decision we heavily penalised ourselves again.

''It was a very frustrating and disappointing performance in terms of the scoresheet, but I was much encouraged by a lot of the play the Reds produced.

''I didn't think we were in any way inferior to Swansea who are an excellent side, but they capitalised on our mistakes and played pretty well themselves.''

An exchange of penalties by Tommy Hayes and Thomas maintained the difference until the Reds found their finishing touch, both tries coming from difficult situations at the base of scrums.

Firstly, Graham Beveridge fumbled before gathering inside his own half and finding Roland Reid whose pace took him clean through before a suspiciously forward-looking pass put Hayes in under the posts.

Reid then recovered a tricky situation as the scrum was put under pressure, before feeding James McLaren who powered through.

He seemed to delay too long, but fellow centre Jon Stuart's clever change of angle as he received the ball inside the 22 saw him home.

From the re-start, though, a penalty was conceded which Thomas put over, and when Charvis scored his third after Hayes' attempted clearance was charged down, the result was sealed.

The fact that Swansea pulled further clear with both Ben Evans and Paul Moriarty in the sin-bin at the end, and Matthew Robinson capitalising on a wild pass as the Reds sought to counter-attack from their own line, distorted the scoreline.

However, having suffered the first defeat in Scotland at Welsh hands this season, the Reds must now find winning form in the valleys if they are to re-establish their title challenge.

''We certainly feel we are still very much in the race. We look forward to our next game down at Cross Keys, then we have Llanelli back up here, so it is up to us to bounce back from this,'' said Dixon.

They must learn to do more to help themselves, though, because, when league points are at stake, Welsh rugby folk are, it must be said, far from hospitable.

Reds - A Bulloch; J Steel, J McLaren, J Stuart (B Irving 53-55 and 78min), J Craig; T Hayes, G Beveridge (A Nicol, 70); D Hilton (A Watt, 70), G Bulloch, G McIlwham, C Stewart (S Campbell, 66), J White (Campbell, 51-55), G Simpson (R Reid, 23), D Macfadyen (Reid, 13-19), J Petrie.

Swansea - K Morgan; S Payne, S Winn, S Gibbs, M Robinson; A Thomas, S Martens (R Jones, 49); C Anthony, C Wells, B Evans, T Maullin, A Moore, P Moriarty, C Charvis (D Thomas, 70) (G Mason, 75-81)) G Lewis.

Referee - R Dickson (Madras FP).

Scoring sequence (Reds first): 7-0, 7-7, 7-12, 7-19,7-22 (half-time);10-22, 10-25, 17-25, 22-25, 22-28, 22-35, 22-42.

Scorers: Reds: Tries - Steel (11min), Hayes (59), Stuart (62). Conversions - Hayes (11,59). Penalties - Hayes (48). Swansea: Tries - Charvis (17, 36, 68), Payne (21), Robinson (80). Conversions - Thomas (17, 36, 68, 80). Penalties - Thomas (40, 57, 66).