Stade Francais v Glasgow Caledonians

A BRIEF look back at the facts and figures thrown up by last season's European Cup will starkly spell out to coach Richie Dixon and his Glasgow Caley Reds just how daunting a task they face tomorrow when they open their latest campaign against Stade Francais in Paris.

Facing any team from the republic is a tough proposition at the best of times, but when you are up against an outfit that thrashed Welsh champions Pontypridd 71-14 almost a year to the day earlier at the same venue, you begin to realise the loftiness of the mountain in front of you.

In the wake of that quarter-final result, Stade Francais, not surprisingly, established themselves as overwhelming favourites to claim the trophy. But the inconsistent nature of French rugby was underlined a fortnight later when they lost 33-27 to eventual champions Ulster in Belfast.

It is that particular outcome which Dixon's upbeat squad must use as inspiration when they take the field at Stade Jean Bouin tomorrow afternoon.

The coach declared: ''As we all know, French sides are capable of great things, but they are also vulnerable when they are put under pressure - and that must be our aim.

''There is no doubt that we are better prepared than ever before for the challenge, thanks to the fact that we have been exposed to up-front league rugby in the build up for the first time in the build-up to European competition.

''While we are on an upward surge at the moment after a string of good results against strong opponents from Wales, we are by no means complacent.''

Two Caley players who are certainly champing at the bit to renew their acquaintance with the continental scene are captain Andy Nicol and international prop David Hilton.

Both are determined to help the Reds establish a platform for a successful challenge - and erase the frustrations of missing out on last season's action.

The last time Nicol had any involvement in the European Cup was to actually receive the trophy for Bath 18 months ago, but a mixture of politics and the stubbornness of English clubs meant that the West Country giants were barred from defending their title.

Nicol, also buoyed by his recall to the Scotland set-up, admitted: ''I am utterly excited at the prospect of playing on the big stage again.

''All the Bath guys had a real feeling of emptiness last year when we couldn't compete, especially after winning the thing just a few months earlier. There was something just not right about not being able to defend your own title and that definitely left a bitter taste.

''At the time, the Bath players were saying all the politically correct things about the Allied Dunbar Premiership being the highest level of competition - but under the surface we all knew full well that Europe had that extra something.''

Nicol reckons the presence of Five Nations heroes Glenn Metcalfe and Gordon Bulloch in the Caley ranks will be an enormous boost to their chances of pulling off a famous victory.

He said: ''It is only a few months since these guys won with Scotland at the Stade de France. They will derive self-belief from that experience and the measured confidence can be filtered through the rest of the team.

''They have proved that it is possible for Scottish players to go to Paris and win, and their team-mates have to take that on board.''

The Stade Francais line-up is packed with big names, with the back-line looking particularly potent. Italian veteran Diego Dominguez leads the side from stand-off - and will pose his usual threat with the boot that earned him a personal haul of 100 points in last term's tournament.

His half-back partner Christophe Laussucq keeps former Reds man Derrick Patterson on the bench, while the brightest spotlight is sure to be on Christophe Dominici, who emerged as one of the personalities of the World Cup thanks to his scintillating display in France's semi-final victory over New Zealand at Twickenham.

It will be Shaun Longstaff's unenviable task to keep tabs on the slight but elusive winger, but one he is delighted to be entrusted with. He said: ''I had mixed emotions in April when I was on the bench during Scotland's victory over France. Obviously, I was thrilled to be part of the squad - but there was also an element of frustration that I didn't get a run.

''I love being involved in French rugby because the nature of the game there means the ball is liable to be spread wide more often. I am looking forward to seeing a lot of action, whether it be in attack or defence.''

Stade Francais - A Gomes; C Dominici, F Comba, T Lombard, N Raffault; D Dominguez, F Laussucq; S Marconnet, F Landreau, P De Villiers, D Auradou, E Chaffardon, C Moni, C Juillet, R Pool-Jones. Replacements: D Patterson, R Butland, A Abadie, D George, K Whitley, R Poulain, G De Carli.

Glasgow Caledonians - G Metcalfe; A Bulloch, J Stuart, I Jardine, S Longstaff; T Hayes, A Nicol; D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Campbell, J White, M Waite, G Simpson, D McFadyen. Replacements: I McInroy, B Irving, G Beveridge, R Reid, D Burns, A Watt, G Scott.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).