It was hardly the exhibition of rugby they had hoped to produce on their last home appearance of the season, but in the end all that mattered was that the Reds claimed a vital win at Hughenden last night.

The fact they were hanging on grimly in the dying moments, having laboured unimpressively to establish a winning lead, mattered little alongside the fact that they will again take Scotland's top seeding into next season's European Cup.

In many ways, however, their failure to drive home their advantage after establishing a 14-point lead early in the game, summed up their season. Normally it has been a case of the Reds getting the better of sides in Scotland having lost to them in Wales. This time around they were facing opponents they had produced one of their best performances against, when a Newport side boasting their full array of internationalists was overrun at Rodney Parade a month ago.

Naturally, then, it seemed almost inevitable that they would struggle against what was little better than a second string Newport side.

''We were a bit flat tonight, while Newport had a lot of fresh players out there trying to impress their coach,'' said Richie Dixon, the Reds coach. ''Losing Glenn Metcalfe and Andy Nicol just after our two first-half tries didn't help either, but we also slackened off at that stage.''

After an early exchange of penalties by Scott Mitchell and Tommy Hayes, the Reds had threatened to take a grip on the game with two tries in brisk succession. The first was the result of a quickly taken penalty wide on the left, just inside the Newport half, the ball being worked to the opposite wing where Metcalfe burst through the defensive line before delivering the scoring pass to James McLaren.

Unfortunately, the Scotland full-back had to retire shortly afterwards with a leg injury, but his replacement, Barry Irving, picked up where he had left off during his match-winning performance against Pontypridd on Friday, weaving his way through the Newport defence with his first touch of the ball before putting Rory Kerr in on the left.

Yet with Nicol (ribs) and Dave Hilton (neck) following Metcalfe off injured, the Reds lost their way in the second quarter and Newport got back in touch with a fine try.

Joe Powell made the initial break, Ceri Jones taking play on into the Reds 22 before Dale Burn and Alix Popham linked neatly to release Jonathan Pritchard.

Hayes and Mitchell again exchanged penalties in the third quarter before Simpson made a typical breenge from a lineout to set up a try for Lee Harrison, the prop coming onto the ball with impressive velocity.

When Hayes added another penalty to make it a three-score gap the situation seemed ripe for a big finish by the Reds, but it was Newport who finished the stronger, with Simon Raiwalui, their captain, going over.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds: G Metcalfe (B Irving 13)(I McInroy 68-73); J McLaren, A Bulloch, J Stuart, R Kerr; T Hayes, A Nicol (F Stott 21); D Hilton (L Harrison 31), G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Griffiths, C Stewart, G Simpson, D Macfadyen, J Petrie.

Newport: J Rowles; M Llewellyn, M Watkins (A Marinos 80), J Prichard, B Breeze; S Mitchell, D Burn; C Jones, P Young, L Fortey (R Snow 63), G Taylor, S Raiwalui, J Powell, G Gravell, A Popham

Scoring sequence (Reds first): 0-3, 3-3, 10-3, 17-3, 17-10 (half-time); 20-10, 20-13, 25-13,

28-13, 28-20.

Scorers. Reds. Tries: McLaren (10), Kerr (14), Harrison (61). Cons: Hayes (10,14). Pens: Hayes (5, 41, 70). Newport. Tries: Pritchard (24), Raiwalui (73). Cons: Mitchell (24, 73); Pens: Mitchell (1, 52).