Newport v Glasgow Caledonian Reds

Their umpteen meetings with the Edinburgh Reivers apart, Glasgow Caledonian Reds go into the closest thing they have to a local derby today when they visit Newport at Rodney Parade.

''We have spent so much time in Newport that this almost feels like a home game,'' joked Reds coach Richie Dixon.

Since the two teams share something of a problem in that they both have players who have been at the centre of the ineligibility row which has embarrassed rugby in recent months, it is all the more delightfully ironic, then, that the Reds regular base for visits to Wales has been changed during the season from the Stakis Newport to the Newport Hilton.

Their local identity is slightly diluted today, then, by the absence of the man who could claim to have inspired that re-christening, Dave Hilton, while they are also weakened by the decision to rest three of his erstwhile Scotland team-mates, Andy Nicol, Glenn Metcalfe and Gordon Simpson.

By contrast, the real home side could hardly be stronger with former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann leading a foreign legion which includes fellow South African Franco Smith, Peter Rogers, a Welsh internationalist who was born in South Africa, Australian-born Welsh cap Jason Jones-Hughes, Canadian Rod Snow, Fijian Simon Raiwalui and New Zealander Shane Howarth.

While Hilton and his Reds clubmate Jon Stuart, who will play today, will - like would-be Welsh pair Brett Sinkinson and Tyrone Maullin - be eligible to play for their adopted countries on completion of a three-year residency period, Howarth has been the biggest loser as a result of the row.

Because he has played for the All Blacks and had not completed his three years' residency before January 1 this year, he has been told that he can never again play for Wales.

While that could have the effect of demotivating the 32-year-old, the greater likelihood is that it will give him greater determination to perform today, since the European Cup now looks like being his only real opportunity to play at the highest level.

To that end, Newport's position has improved hugely for the better since their last Scottish visitors arrived three weeks ago.

Then, as Edinburgh Reivers chief executive Nick Oswald has recounted, their backer, Tony Brown, was a worried man, looking decidedly shaken after that match which had seen Reivers recover from a disastrous start to give Newport a run for their money.

And the money in question is a substantial amount, Brown reckoned to be putting up around a million pounds per year to supplement what the club generates itself and gets from the Welsh Rugby Union.

That level of investment needs to be rewarded, but if and when it is, as seems to be happening, then it should provide the inspiration for Scotland's professional teams.

SRU chief executive Bill

Watson believes that, even amidst the current uncertainty over whether Edinburgh Reivers are soon to be split into two teams, there are investors considering putting their weight behind the Scottish sides.

As Newport ecretary Roger Eady acknowledged yesterday, their experience shows how quickly things can be transformed.

Only a year ago, he Welsh Rugby Union's vision of creating four superclubs centred around four teams, Cardiff and Swansea in the two major cities, Pontypridd as the focal point for the Rhondda Valley, and Llanelli in the west of the country.

Yet Newport, the third largest population centre in the country (c.100,000), has challenged that pecking order by demonstrating real ambition in its recruitment drive.

''When you think that 12 months ago it was a shock when we won a game, it has been a real turn-around,'' said Eady.

''We are not saying everything is perfect yet, but the way that 15 to 20 years of steady decline has been reversed has been remarkable.''

If the sense of occasion when the Reivers visited last month is anything to go by, the Reds will encounter a vibrant set-up today, with the emphasis very firmly on using glamorous players to attract youngsters into the sport.

''We have two games left and we want to win both,'' said Eady.

''Our aim for the season was

to guarantee a European place

and we now want to make sure we finish second behind Cardiff.''

The bad news for the Reds is that, to achieve the first of those objectives, Newport must win today.

As for the visitors, a victory is necessary to have any realistic chance of finishing as the top Scottish side in this first Celtic League campaign, albeit the fact that both are now certain to finish in the bottom half, has shown just how much Scottish players have to learn from this level of regular competition.

Newport - F Smith; M Llewellyn, J Jones-Hughes, A Marinos, B Breeze; S Howarth, D Burn; P Rogers, P Young, R Snow, G Taylor, S Raiwalui, A Popham, J Forster, G Teichmann. Replacements from - C Jones, M Workman, J Powell, M Watkins, J Gaunt, J Pritchard, D Cummins.

Glasgow Caley- R Shepherd; J Craig, J Stuart, I Jardine, A Bulloch; T Hayes, G Beveridge; A Watt, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, J White, S Campbell, G Flockhart, D Macfadyen, J Petrie. Replacements - B Irving, F Stott, R Reid, M Waite, D Burns, D Herrington, G Scott.