Glasgow Caledonian Reds ... 32 Neath ...... 18

Five tries and four points; if there were still too many mistakes this was close to the ideal preparation for Europe for the Reds at Hughenden last night, writes Kevin Ferrie.

Admittedly, it was by no means as comfortable as the scoreline suggested, but that was largely down to Tommy Hayes' first-half goal-kicking problems which prevented his side from building a formidable lead.

That said, his counterpart Cerith Rees also had his problems in front of the posts, while Scotland full-back Glenn Metcalfe put in a string of superb try-saving tackles, the last of which demonstrated his growing physical presence as he stopped winger Shane Williams in full flight, held him up, and escorted him safely to touch.

As Neath coach Lynn Jones observed: ''Metcalfe saved a couple of tries and he was just one of their World Cup players who has clearly made a big difference to them.

''That has clearly transformed the Scottish sides. If you look at Edinburgh against us a couple of months ago, they looked the worst side I'd ever seen, but then they were outstanding when I saw them recently.''

However, the Reds remain less than satisfied with their own performances. ''When we're good we can be very good,'' said their coach Richie Dixon. ''However, we are still too inconsistent. We were unhappy with out performance just ahead of the interval.''

They allowed Neath back into the match during that period as the Welsh side managed to turn in the lead, having been outplayed for long period of the half.

The Reds had taken the lead with a fine try after captain Andy Nicol looped around Metcalfe to link with Alan Bulloch down the right. The winger took the contact well and Gordon Simpson, part of a fine back-row, kept the move alive, switching play towards the open-side. As it went down the line Jon Stuart made the half-break, and although his basketball pass hung in the air too long to put Shaun Longstaff clear, he took his cue from Bulloch to stand up well and off-load to Ian Jardine who went over in the left corner.

The second try was less stylish, but no less satisfying for the Reds coaches. A five-metre scrum looked to have given their side the chance to unleash Gordon Simpson for a try similar to the one he scored against Newport a week earlier. However, the Neath pack got a nudge on and prevented the platform from being set up.

Yet the pack managed to maintain possession and battle their way back, and when they were awarded another scrum at similar range, there was no stopping Simpson.

Neath clung to contention and a first penalty strike, followed by a drop goal from Rees, kept them within range before they were gifted the injury time try.

Jardine appeared to have no shortage of support, surrounded by team-mates, as, with the match being played at a furious pace, Reds yet again attempted to run out of defence.

He somehow picked out Rees, who raced into the home 22. It looked as if Neath had squandered the opportunity as they forced passes and mishandled, but eventually scrum-half Andrew Jacobs took control to go over on the right.

Having given away a point at the death against Newport last week, the Reds could have been forgiven for beginning to doubt themselves. However, they began the second half in the perfect fashion, scoring their third try.

Hayes Nicol and Stewart Campbell combined well to take the ball deep into Welsh territory, and there was further superb handling by the stand-off, Alan Bulloch, Gordon McIlwham, the prop showing particularly good handling skills and Simpson before Longstaff got over from his wing to take the scoring pass and go over in the right corner.

This time it was Alan Bulloch's turn to follow his fellow wing man's example after Jason White latched onto a loose ball midway inside the Neath half and found Bulloch arriving at pace to charge over from 30 metres out.

At last Hayes managed to find the target with a kick at goal, and when he followed that success with a penalty strike minutes later, it looked as if the Reds were heading towards safety.

Yet the self-destruct button was pressed again as, following a five-metre scrum, centre Tristan Davies was allowed to barrel his way through to score on the left, Pearce's conversion bringing Neath back within a score.

Bulloch's second try re-established the 14-point cushion, and from that stage Caledonians looked relatively safe. This time he was more like an auxiliary No.8 than a winger, the first attempt to drive over from a close range scrum having stalled before he sailed in off his wing to pick up the ball at pace and power his way in.

Reds did have to soak up some pressure towards the end, but from that stage it never looked likely that Neath could close the gap.

For Dixon, then, while there remains plenty to work on, it was a pretty good day at the office, the season's early record having been more than turned around.

The first five matches of this Celtic League campaign had seen them win only one, yet since then they have lost just one of six and go into next week's meeting with Stade Francais in a reasonable frame of mind. ''This was ideal preparation since we deservedly beat another side that is going into Europe,'' Dixon observed.

Glasgow Caledonians Reds: G Metcalfe; A Bulloch, J Stuart (I McInroy 59 min), I Jardine, S Longstaff; T Hayes, A Nicol; A Watt (D Hilton 63 min), G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Campbell (D Burns 9-17 min), J White, M Waite, D McFadyen (R Reid 9-16 min), G Simpson.

Neath: S Stephens; D Williams (R Johnston 42 min), D Tieuti, T Davies (R Johnston 3-6 min), S Williams; C Rees (M Pearce 51 mins), A Jacobs (R Jones 69 min); D Jones (L Gerrard 76 mins), M Davies, A Millward, A Codling, A Jackson (M Turner 63 min), D Jones (S Van-Rensburg 46 min), B Sinkinson, R Phillips.

Referee - J Fleming (Boroughmuir).

Scoring sequence (Reds first): 5-0, 10-0, 10-3, 10-6, 10-11, 15-11, 22-11, 25-11, 25-18, 32-18 Scorers: Glasgow Caledonian Reds - tries - Jardine (13 min), Simpson (25 min), Longstaff (42 mins), Bulloch (50, 64 mins); cons - Hayes (50, 65 min); pen - Hayes (53 mins). Neath - tries - Jacobs (40 min), T Davies (57 min); con - Pearce (58 min); drop goal - Rees (35 min); pen - Rees (28 min).