DAVID Hilton will tonight begin the countdown to the end of his banishment to the inter-national wilderness when Glasgow launch their build-up to the competitive season by taking on Newcastle Falcons, the English Cup holders.

Hilton goes head-to-head with old Springbok foe Marius Hurter with a double-pronged ambition. First, he wants to prove to coach Richie Dixon that he is the No.1 loosehead in the squad - in front of Wallaby Cameron Blades, who arrives next week.

In addition, he aims to persuade Scotland coach Ian McGeechan that he is ready to revive his Test career.

It is almost 18 months since Hilton was sidelined from the big stage by red tape, after it was discovered he had no blood links with Scotland.

He will qualify for his adopted country in less than a year on residency grounds - and he has vowed to use the Celtic League and Heineken Cup as a springboard into a dark blue jersey.

In the meantime, he will only look as far ahead as the Kingston Park showdown and his meeting with Hurter. Hilton declared: ''I have faced him a few times and we have had some fierce battles.

''This might be billed as a pre-season friendly, but we will both be going into it as if it were the most important match we have ever played.''

Lion Gordon Bulloch has been included in Dixon's squad, but will only come off the bench in an emergency. The coach explained: ''We want to give Gordon as much time as possible to shake off the effects of his trip, but we need him as substitute cover. Our other hooker, Dougie Hall, is still sidelined after breaking his ankle at the end of last season.''

Looking ahead to the Falcons challenge, Dixon added: ''The object of the game is to get the lads focussed on the way we want to perform when the competitive stuff starts.

''We also face Northampton Saints next week and I would be delighted if we were to have selection problems before we go to Donnybrook.''

Falcons' Rob Andrew has signalled his intent to use all his big names at some stage in the match. Scots Stuart Grimes and Andrew Mower will appear from the start, while Doddie Weir, Gary Armstrong, and George Graham will come off the bench - along with skipper Pat Lam.

Meanwhile, the Glasgow squad will tomorrow help to re-launch rugby in the south of the country in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Last season came to a premature end because of the outbreak, and the team will take part in a coaching class for the area's teenagers at Dumfries RFC's Park Farm ground.

l Lion Simon Taylor and Scotland back Derrick Lee will make their returns from injury tomorrow when Edinburgh take on Saracens at Goldenacre in their final warm-up match.

Taylor has recovered from the knee problem which cut short his Lions tour, while Lee has been sidelined for six months with an arm injury.