Glasgow Caledonian Reds v Edinburgh Reivers

It may be small comfort after the horrors of recent days and weeks, but news that former giants London Welsh have applied to join the Welsh/Scottish Celtic League was very welcome for Scottish rugby yesterday.

At a time when the sport has been seriously damaged by both Scotland's poor Six Nations Championship form and the eligibility embarrassment, that a club which has been such a nursery for talent wants to leave England's Premiership and join that competition was a much needed reminder of its quality.

London Welsh made their presentation to the Welsh Rugby Union on Thursday night and it was a move which Edinburgh Reivers and Glasgow Caledonian Reds officials acknowledged could only be good for the league.

Although nothing like the force they were in the seventies and early eighties, that London Welsh fell further from grace than London Scottish has, in many ways, saved the organisation.

While the Scottish exiles club became an obvious target for entrepreneurs, their Welsh counterparts were just below that level, so found time to regroup following the impact of the game going open, at second division level.

Their chairman, David Hammond, who with former internationalist John Taylor and president Kelvin Bryan made the presentation, explained, however, that they feel their prospects are very limited in England.

''Our aim is to return London Welsh to the status they held 30 years ago when they were one of, if not the, leading club sides in Britain and we see the Welsh/ Scottish set-up as a vehicle for achieving this,'' Hammond said yesterday.''

Currently fourth in division two, with even the champions having to negotiate a play-off with the bottom first division side to gain promotion, they see little chance of rapid progress.

''Yet we feel we have reached a playing standard which would allow us to compete strongly with the likes of Cardiff, Pontypridd, and the two Scottish teams and would be confident that our admission would be beneficial to the whole competition and the club,'' Hammond observed.

''We have a solid support base in and around London and also think we have the biggest travelling support in the Premiership. I would certainly imagine that many of them would be delighted by the prospect of a couple of visits north of the Border during the season.

''In many ways, travelling to Glasgow, Edinburgh or the Borders would be a lot less complicated than visiting the likes of Hartlepool, while home matches against Scottish sides might also attract many London-based Scots.''

Hammond accepted that there may be political problems in both England and Wales, not least from Welsh second division sides who might miss out on promotion.

However, he felt they had received a very good hearing.

''We came away with a feeling of great optimism and are hoping the general committee will endorse our application sooner rather than later,'' he said.

Edinburgh Reivers chief executive Nick Oswald was clearly delighted by the development.

''We are seeking as high a standard of rugby as possible and a club of that standing and pedigree would add to the league's credibility,'' he said.

Short-term, however, Reivers' own credibility is on the line as they anticipate tomorrow's meeting with the Reds at Inverness's Caledonian Park (kick-off 3pm).

Their form has turned around to such an extent that they are now two places above the Reds in the Celtic League, although their coach, Bob Easson, is under no illusions.

''I said in the dressing room today, 'Let's be brutal. I know you don't need any reminding, but I'm going to remind you anyway. Include the pre-season tournament in Canada and our record against the Reds this season is played four, lost four.' This is a game we have to win,'' he said yesterday.

Like the Reds, the Reivers resources have been stretched by injuries, Hong Kong Sevens commitments and the international team management's decision to ask for a number of players to be rested.

They also lost full back Derrick Lee with a groin muscle tweak at training yesterday.

Boroughmuir's Graeme Kiddie consequently becomes the second club player, alongside Heriot's FP stand-off Gordon Ross, to be called into their starting line-up as a result.

Others, such as Heriot's pair Stewart Walker (wing) and Andre Dall (lock), Watsonians scrum-half Chris Black, Currie flanker Peter Simpson, and Melrose hooker Wayne Mitchell, are on the bench and may get their chance to impress those issuing contracts for next season.

For the Reds, of course, the match is even more of a test of moral fibre, technically in breach of Scotland's own domestic regulations as they now are, with three non-Scots qualified players in their ranks, Cook Islander Tommy Hayes having suddenly found himself accompanied by Dave Hilton and Jon Stuart in that category.

Even before the full impact of Hilton's situation became clear this week, he was having to fend off claims that he was set to return to Bristol.

Now, more than ever, he must prove his commitment, having said at that stage: ''We have a job to do here and I am here to see it through.''

The sort of pressure he is under may well be brought home today.

He is directly confronted by Scottish-born-and-bred Barry Stewart, who was first capped a year after Hilton and who has accrued a total of four caps while Hilton has amassed his 41.

The match also offers a first- ever opportunity for Reds full back Rowen Shepherd to play in front of his ain folk as a professional in a competitive match.

Though still a long way from his native Caithness, this is as far north as he could ever hope to play in a high-profile match, making the timing of his return ideal.

This will be his first start for the Reds since suffering a serious wrist ligament injury last summer, having played a number of comeback games for his club, Edinburgh Accies, before putting in a brief performance for the Reds at Llanelli a fortnight ago.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds - R Shepherd; T Hayes, J Stuart, I Jardine (captain), A Bulloch; B Irving, F Stott; D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, D Burns, S Campbell, J White, G Simpson, M Waite. Replacements - G Metcalfe, G Beveridge, G Scott, D Hall, A Watt, A Brown.

Edinburgh Reivers - G Kiddie; K Milligan, J Hita, G Shiel (captain), K Utterson; G Ross, I Fairley; A Jacobsen, S Scott, B Stewart, A Lucking, I Fullarton, C Mather, G Dall, G Hayter. Replacements - S Walker, C Black, A Dall, P Simpson, M Proudfoot, W Mitchell.