Glasgow Caledonians ...... 20 Ebbw Vale .... 28

For those of us who have defended the creation of the necessary evil that is super- districts and who hope a way can be found for them to fire the imagination of the rugby public, it was a disturbing Saturday evening at Ayr's Millbrae.

Three weeks in and neither Scottish side has earned a home win in this Celtic League.

Victories have been confined to Edinburgh Reivers successes over the two lowliest of the Welsh sides Caerphilly and Dunvant (none too convincingly on Saturday, either) and the Reds defeat of the Reivers in Gala nine days ago.

The Reds, meanwhile, carrying the name of Scotland's biggest city, have yet to play within 25 miles of Glasgow, home matches having taken place in Stranraer, Stirling, and Ayr.

Missionary work is all very well in this unwieldy region they represent, but it might be an idea to get the faithful on board first . . . if they exist.

More worrying yet, though, was the manner of this defeat by one of the less-fancied Welsh sides.

If it was fair to say that Ponty-pridd, the surprise pacesetters in this Celtic League so far, had no right to leave Stirling with full points.

Ebbw Vale, by contrast, took their due return for an excellent night's work at Millbrae.

Having added firepower in the backs to their rugged pack of forwards, they looked much the likelier of these two sides to feature among the challengers in the latter part of the season.

In fairness, the home side did appear to be controlling things pretty efficiently as, facing a strong wind, they recovered from conceding a first-minute score to claim the lead.

Once again, as in their previous matches, they proved they could be dynamic, thrilling even, when everything comes together.

Jon Petrie's powerful thrust broke down Ebbw Vale's solid defensive line to provide the opportunity for the game's opening try.

As the ball was rapidly shifted left, his back-row colleague, Gareth Flockhart, roared into the line at genuine pace to take Jon Stuart's expertly timed scoring pass.

The experience of their half backs seemed to be ensuring that the Reds would reach the interval with matters under control as they looked forward to support from the elements before disaster struck.

Craig Chalmers' latest setback was a severe head knock from which he bravely attempted to recover on the field before lurching groggily off it in 29 minutes. It was to prove a bad night all round for the Reds' stand-offs.

Within minutes of his departure, Ebbw Vale had demonstrated both the power, which was their trademark last season, and the pace that their young backs, marshalled by former England scrum half Richard Hill, have introduced.

Their first try was a penalty score for repeated scrummage disruption after their forwards initially drove the Reds pack off their own put-in close to the line.

Moments later, full back Jonathan Williams showed his fleetness of foot in breaking Rory Kerr's attempted tackle while covering some 70 metres from deep in his own half on a swerving run which ended behind the Reds line.

Strange's second penalty made it 20-8 at the interval but, within a minute of the second half, the real damage was done and the Reds could not recover from it.

Hayes put the kick-off dead, allowing the Ebbw Vale pack to immediately re-establish their authority and they sucked in the defence with some powerful driving before the ball was released to allow centre Jonathan Hawker to score.

The Reds stand-off looked like making amends, his own interception and gutsy running setting up the first of four penalty opportunities as he kicked his side back into contention.

His technique failed him at the vital time, though, and having missed a difficult chance from wide on the right, when an easier one rebounded off the left upright 10 minutes before the end, the opportunity to steal victory had gone, Strange making the game safe for the visitors eight minutes later.

Reds coach Richie Dixon rightly said Ebbw Vale have improved since last season, but without apportioning too much blame to Hayes, acknowledged that they still believed the winning of the match was in their own hands before starting the second half so badly.

Ebbw Vale coach Lee Jones, meanwhile, was perhaps being a little unfair to both camps in suggesting that his men had been underestimated.

The truth was that Ebbw Vale were simply the better all-round side.

Most notably, though, Reds must find a way of avoiding being bullied out of matches against Welsh sides that will always boast big forwards.

''Our front five is fairly small, but we will work on it,'' said Dixon.

''We have to grow up and we have to do it very quickly.''

Other setbacks included the early exit of try-scorer Flockhart with a neck injury and concussed youngster Iain McInroy's departure from Millbrae in an ambulance, before spending the night in hospital and being told he will be out of action for three weeks.

This Celtic League looks like being a very hard school for Scotland's infant professionals.

Glasgow Caledonians - A Bulloch; J Craig, I McInroy (I Jardine 64 min), J Stuart, R Kerr (Jardine 17-20); C Chalmers (T Hayes 29), A Nicol; G McIlwham (D Hilton 55), G Scott, W Anderson, S Campbell, S Griffiths, J Petrie, M Waite, G Flockhart (J White 47).

Ebbw Vale - J Williams; A Harries, S John, J Hawker, A Wagstaff; J Strange, R Smith; A Phillips (I Thomas 65), L Phillips, A Metcalfe, L Banks (G Green 65), G Llewellyn, N Budgett, B Clark, M Jones

Referee - R Dickson (Madras FP).

Scoring sequence (Glasgow Caledonians first): 0-3, 3-3, 8-3, 3-10, 8-17, 8-20 (half-time); 8-25, 11-25, 14-25, 17-25, 20-25, 20-28

Scorers: Glasgow Caledonians: Try - Flockhart (24 min). Penalties - Chalmers (10), Hayes (43, 57, 61, 63). Ebbw Vale: Tries - pen try (31), Williams (35), Hawker (41). Conversions - Strange (31, 35). Penalties - Strange (1, 40, 78).