With both sides having to win to have any chance of challenging for the title and both showing the depth of their squad by replacing internationalists with internationalists, today's match at Cardiff Arms Park should be of the highest quality.

Yet the evidence of the recent and not so recent past suggests otherwise, taking into account the disparity between the home and away form of Cardiff and Glasgow Caledonian Reds.

That is highlighted by the most recent league result for both being a defeat at Ebbw Vale, those two victories representing half of the second bottom side's total number of wins this season.

Cardiff have, too, lost twice in Scotland this season where the Reds have lost only one league match, yet Edinburgh Reivers' 29-11 home win over the Welsh giants stands alongside their 80-16 thrashing at the Arms.

A similar margin of turn-around could see the Reds, who beat Cardiff by a single point in September, concede a century today.

That is the least likely of outcomes, but Wednesday's surprise 12-7 defeat at Ebbw Vale will ensure that this Cardiff side, from which seven internationalists drop out while six others return, is highly motivated.

However, there has to be at least some hope that the Reds can demonstrate some of the resolve necessary to have any chance of adding to wins at Cross Keys and Llanelli - the only successes by either Scottish side in Wales this season - given the make-up of their side.

A combination of injuries and crafty selection have, after all, produced a XV bristling with points to prove.

At full back, Glenn Metcalfe has his last real chance to show he should feature in Scotland's Six Nations' Championship campaign this season and press his British Lions claims.

On the wings, Shaun Longstaff, dropped by Scotland this season, only gets his chance because fellow cap James Craig is suffering from a thigh strain, an injury which is unlikely to rule him out of next week's Test against Italy but which might, nonetheless, offer extra incentive to yet another internationalist Jon Steel.

At centre, James McLaren, dropped from Scotland's starting XV for the trip to Twickenham, starts ahead of Alan Bulloch, but Richie Dixon, the Reds coach, intends to give both national squad members some playing time.

In the pack, both Jason White, from the squad and Jon Petrie, from the XV, were, in turn, omitted by Scotland in favour of Simon Taylor last week and will be eager to respond the right way, while Gordon Simpson, in spite of a series of fine performances since off-field misdemeanours saw him axed from the national squad for disciplinary reasons last autumn, is featuring in neither the senior nor A squads.

There are, too, the players with no chance of international involvement, for whom this may be the biggest stage they play on this season.

They include Fraser Stott, the veteran scrum half who gets a rare start because Andy Nicol, the Scotland captain, has a dead leg, however the standard bearers of that group are Dave Hilton and Jonno Stuart, respectively involved with the Scotland and Scotland A squads this time last year before discovering they were not qualified to play.

It was at Cardiff last year that Hilton was caught up in the cross-fire aimed at umpteen internationalists having, that weekend, just claimed the most recent of his 41 caps against Wales for his adopted country.

That, then, adds poignancy to this visit to a ground which backs onto the Millennium Stadium.

''I feel there is light at the end of my tunnel at last,'' said a man who now qualifies for Scotland on residency grounds in July next year.

''The past few weeks have been very difficult for me. Having so many of the Reds traipsing off on Scotland duty has really brought it home and it has made it worse that we have had no games to help take my mind off it.

''However, all the non-internationalists have been training so hard and focusing on this one. We let ourselves down badly at Ebbw Vale last month, so we are determined to make up for that.''

Whether the Reds will benefit from having had a month away from competitive matches since that fixture or Cardiff will be the sharper having played three nights ago remains to be seen.

Either way, title talk seems ridiculously hypothetical since both have lost two more matches than Swansea, but the seventh-placed Reds have still to visit the league leaders, who themselves have some tough matches to come, including a visit to Cardiff.

If, then, the Reds could raise themselves to a very special effort this afternoon, it may mean that they carry the momentum into the final few weeks of the season.

Leicester, Toulouse, Saracens, and Ulster all being among those who have lost there this season, as well as the Reivers, it seems unlikely, though, even if the champions' most recent home match was their only defeat at the Arms this season when Bridgend called upon them.

Sandwiched between that defeat and Wednesday's embarrassment was the 65-point thrashing of Llanelli at Stradey Park in the Welsh Cup, demonstrating what Cardiff are really capable of.

At Hughenden, too, they could have won, but for Neil Jenkins' missed penalty attempt from long range and wide on the right.

Right now, with Jenkins among those caps returning to Cardiff's side, most Reds supporters would settle for it being that close again, whether the goal-kicking machine hits the target this time or not. Teams:

Cardiff (probable) - R Williams; N Walne, J Robinson, G Thomas, C Morgan; N Jenkins, R Powell; S John, A Lewis, D young, C Quinnell, M Voyle, D Baugh, M Williams, E Lewis. Replacements: R Howley, M Rayer, W Fyvie, O Williams, S Moore, P Rogers, J Humphreys.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - G Metcalfe; J Steel, J McLaren, J Stuart, J Craig; T Hayes, F Stott; D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, J White, S Griffiths, G Simpson, D Macfadyen, J Petrie. Replacements: G Scott, A Watt, C Stewart, R Reid, K Sinclair, B Irving, A Bulloch.