Glasgow Caley Reds

v Edinburgh Reivers

Indignant at suggestions that the balance of power is shifting away from them, as well as, apparently, unfounded claims that their playmaker is set to leave, Edinburgh Reivers begin the defence of their Tri-Series title tonight with a huge point to prove.

Their trip to Hughenden (kick-off 7.30pm) gets the three match qualifying contest to decide Scotland's European Cup seedings for next season underway, with Reivers deeply conscious that while both teams' efforts in this season's competition have been criticised, they have received the lion's share, having been in the easier group.

''We see this as the ideal match to get the show back on the road given that it's a local derby, and there's a lot at stake over the next couple of months for the guys with the Six Nations' Championship coming up,'' said Reivers chief executive Nick Oswald.

''It is very important that we retain our top place in Scotland to get the better draw in Europe.''

Coach Ian Rankin also noted that his players are far from oblivious to suggestions that the Reds should be favourites on the basis of their European performances.

''All the motivation is coming from some of the things that have been said by our opposition, which we are delighted with,'' he said.

Though his opposite number, Glasgow Caledonian Reds coach Richie Dixon, magnanimously acknowledged that the Reivers had actually won more games than his side in Europe, while his side have lost four successive matches since their much vaunted win over Leicester in December, Rankin was entitled to some righteous indignation.

''I'd rather win games,'' he said of the respective reviews received. ''Europe is history, but if the Reds feel they would have beaten Northampton home and away, I'm delighted to hear that. I would have fancied our chances at Leicester as well.''

Invited by a local journalist to comment on ''Glasgow's well known inferiority complex'', Rankin was unprepared to be drawn into a slanging match, putting any verbal jousts between the sides down to ''friendly banter''.

He was, though, less diplomatic on the subject of reports that stand-off Duncan Hodge might be set to move to France, describing the player as ''upset . . . surprised and disappointed,'' by the claims.

If Hodge was in any way irritated, however, he had recovered his composure sufficiently yesterday to laugh off the claims.

''I found it quite amusing,'' he said. ''I genuinely don't know where this came from.

''Apparently, I was supposed to have been speaking to Bryan Redpath (Narbonne's scrum half) about it at the squad session on Monday, but that's just absolute nonsense.

''To my knowledge, there has been no approach, and leaving Scotland hasn't crossed my mind.''

Rankin has had enough to concern himself with in finalising his side without such potentially unsettling speculation, having had to completely overhaul his back division in recent weeks.

Following Alan Tait's retirement, Derrick Lee's long-term injury problems and Scotland winger Cammy Murray's shoulder dislocation, team captain Graham Shiel is now also sidelined after suffering a hamstring tweak during Tuesday's national squad session.

His place is taken by Kevin Utterson, whose own opportunities have been restricted by injury since a bright start to his representative career.

Though doubts over Craig Chalmers' fitness - he is unlikely to play because of a thigh strain - have delayed the Reds' team announcement, Utterson and Chris Paterson will, in the absence of another injury victim, Jon Stuart, face the more experienced combination of Ian Jardine and Alan Bulloch in the Reds midfield.

However, the situations are reversed in the back row, where Gordon Simpson's absence leaves an express-paced, but raw, Reds trio facing the highly experienced combination of Reivers' captain for the day, Cammy Mather, and Marty Leslie and Carl Hogg.

''I've never played against any of their back row, so I'll reserve judgment until I do, but there is no doubt that they have some real talent there,'' Mather said, however.

Both coaches are looking for a much more constructive approach than in the teams' tousy meeting at Gala earlier in the season.

Consequently, Rankin welcomed the appointment of Scotland's top referee, Jim Fleming, while Dixon called on the players to be aware of the need to maintain standards and to approach this match professionally.

''This is no more important than any other Celtic League game we have played,'' said Dixon.

''What we are trying to get across to the players is that you have to front up every time, irrespective of the opposition.''

Yet the Six Nations Championship's imminence inevitably adds an extra dimension, as is best demonstrated by the match-up of wingers Shaun Longstaff and Conan Sharman.

Longstaff is favourite to replace Cammy Murray in the Scotland side, but Sharman has been rattling in the tries this season.

''I don't go out there thinking about anyone else.

''But I think we are all aware that the team selections are at the weekend and, hopefully, I'll get the call on Monday,'' said Longstaff.