CALEDONIA Reds opened their championship defence with a hard-fought win at Riverside Park in Jedburgh last night and, in the process, logged their first victory in the Borders for 40 years.

The Reivers, whose losing run now extends to seven games, were well off the pace in an opening half disfigured by some indifferent refereeing from Rob Dickson, but after the turn, when they were 14-8 in arrears, the Border spirit re-asserted itself and, as Reds' captain Rob Wainwright said afterwards, the reigning inter-district champions just happened to have their noses in front at the final whistle.

Wainwright said: ''We've waited for this for 40 years. I don't care how we did it, to win down here in rugby country requires a massive effort.

''We did it with a huge defensive effort. It looked as if it was going to be a fairly open game in the first half, but then we had to dig in and, ultimately, it was a real hard slog.

''We've had a torrid time down here in the past and I don't care about the Borderers' record in Europe. They are a very good side and they will win games in this championship. We just happened to be ahead at the final whistle.''

Reivers' captain Tony Stanger, bitterly disappointed that his side have not yet managed to shed their Euro-losers' tag, said: ''Scoring two tries to one counts for nothing. We didn't really deserve to win. That was as bad as we have played all year. We've played some good stuff in Europe, even when losing, but that was unacceptable tonight.

''That was a home game which we should have won. The dressing room is like a morgue. Our pride has been stung and the measure of our players will be how they can come back from this next week against Glasgow.''

Borders' coach Rob Moffat said: ''We have got in a losing rut. We panicked a bit tonight and were like headless chickens. We were behind for the whole game and, because we were losing, we didn't have the confidence to play our own game. If you're getting beat every week then, deep down, your confidence goes.''

The Reivers' captain and coach had the good grace to admit afterwards that if they had managed to steal a result at the final whistle then they would not really have deserved it.

The Reds were yards faster in thought and deed and, early on, played a canny game with Mark McKenzie placing the ball behind the advancing Borderers for turn and chase defence.

In the second period, when the home side enjoyed parity of possession, too often they took the ball into contact situations and, by the subterranean work of the likes of Dave McIvor, found themselves conceding turnover after turnover.

Nor should the referee escape criticism. A penalty count in the mid-twenties means that players and referee are not in tune with each other.

Some of the early stoppages were niggardly affairs, and no matter what instructions come down from Murrayfield about policing the tackle situation, the referee has to display an empathy for the game.

The Reivers drew first blood with a Scott Welsh penalty goal after three minutes, but thereafter found themselves almost continually on the back foot.

Derrick Patterson had the first try, nipping round the side of a ruck set up by McIvor and a Rowen Shepherd penalty goal put the Reds further in front after 13 minutes.

Another Shepherd penalty goal saw the Reds in command at 11-3, but then Cameron Murray broke and Carl Hogg slipped a sublime inside ball to the razor-sharp Tony Stanger for a touchdown on the half-hour mark. Scott Welsh converted.

Shepherd had another penalty goal before the turn and the near-capacity crowd began to expect the worst.

Four minutes into the second half Shepherd was on target again, but then the Borderers began to dig in. Stanger made the break and Scott Nichol was over for a try converted by Graeme Aitchison.

There were just two points in it and the next score would be the winner. It came from the boot of McKenzie with another penalty goal . . . and Reds had logged their historic win.

SCORERS: Scottish Borders - Nicol 1t; Stanger 1t; Welsh 1p; Aitchison 1c. Caledonia Reds - Patterson 1t; McKenzie 1p; Shepherd 4p.

Scottish Borders - G Aitchison; S Nichol, T Stanger, captain, C Murray M Dods; S Welsh, I Fairley; P Wright, J Hay, S Ferguson, R Brown, I Fullarton, S Aitken, C Hogg, A Roxburgh. Substitutes - N McIlroy for Wright (39min); C Redpath for Aitken (75); K Utterson for Stanger (85).

Caledonia Reds - R Shepherd; S Longstaff, P Rouse, D Officer, J Kerr; M McKenzie, D Patterson; W Anderson, G Scott, S Penman, S Campbell, S Grimes, D McIvor, G Flockhart, R Wainwright, captain. Substitutes - N Renton for Shepherd (48); M Waite for Flockhart (55); J Manson for Anderson (57); D Herrington for Penman (57) J White for Waite (70).

Referee - R Dickson (Madras FP).

qEngland captain Phil de Glanville yesterday said he would pick Lawrence Dallaglio to lead the national side for the autumn Tests against the top southern hemisphere sides if the decision were his to make.

De Glanville said he would understand if coach Clive Woodward chose to use more than one captain this season, as prepares for next year's World Cup.

''You have to have more than one person who is capable of captaining the team and has had experience, because if one gets injured you don't want to have to switch at a late stage,'' said de Glanville.