A Scottish Borderer leading his team to victory in a Rugby World Cup final . . . for all that some would have us believe otherwise, it is an unimaginable notion in this day and age. Yet there was a time when it was not so. A gathering in the rugby heartland tonight, as Scotland contest a potential Rugby League European Championship decider with France at Gala's Netherdale, will provide an appropriate commemoration of the occasion.

Great Britain's first campaign in a Rugby World Cup - that is what the tournament was called by its organisers - began precisely 60 years ago today in the southern French city of Lyon with a 28-13 win over Australia. The format was round-robin with the top two teams meeting in a final and, after a draw with France then a 26-6 win over New Zealand, the British side led the standings, resulting in an all-European play-off with their hosts which they won 16-12.

Their captain was Dave Valentine of Hawick who, having played for Scotland at rugby union before switching codes a few months after playing in the 1947 Calcutta Cup match, should be a legendary figure in his home district. It is worth noting that, when he signed for Huddersfield Giants, he is reported to have joined no fewer than five other Hawick men in their squad. Those were dark times, though, and Valentine would still have been viewed by many in Scottish rugby as a controversial figure on his premature death in 1976.

Only in recent, more enlightened times has it even become possible to countenance an occasion such as tonight's, then, which also marks the 20th anniversary of Scotland's first rugby league international.

Run by volunteers and horribly under-resourced, Rugby League Scotland has been working hard to try to ensure that it pays proper tribute to its greats with invitations sent to cross-code internationalists George Fairbairn, Alan Tait, George Graham and the Cowan brothers, Stan and Ronnie. Efforts have also been made this week to locate Valentine's younger brother Bob, who was also to represent Great Britain in rugby league and has recently returned to his home town.

Yet the biggest link of all with that campaign in France and that day in Lyon in 1954 will be made by the only living Scot who can claim to have played in a World Cup final: David Rose of Jedburgh.

Having represented Scotland at union seven times, the winger had joined Huddersfield the year before the World Cup and was to score the crucial third try in the final.

"The World Cup was special to me because it was my first year in rugby league and even more so because of Dave Valentine, who was also from the Borders, being the captain," Rose recalls. "It was a big thing from the French point of view. It was their idea to promote the World Cup and there were just the four teams: Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and France. France had gone to Australia the previous year and had beaten them. We did the same to France."

Rose's career was foreshortened by a broken leg suffered after a move to Leeds and, now 82, he plays down his own part in that World Cup campaign. "I'm not one for that type of thing. I liked to be selected for a team and that's it," he says. "You can do all that 'How great thou art' stuff after I'm gone."

All of which is delivered with gentle warmth and it is telling, too, that there are no recriminations about the way rugby league players were treated in the Borders during his playing days. While he agrees that the attitudes which prevailed so long were ridiculous, Rose points out that he was always well treated in Jedburgh and that, in any case, decisions were made with eyes open. "The players that did what I did knew what they were letting themselves in for," he said. "Speaking truthfully, of course there was cash involved but it was also a challenge to see if you could meet the standard. It's great now, though, because people can play cross-code without any repercussions so we just get to see the most talented players performing."

That those of the past are at last being acknowledged properly by their ain folk is a welcome thing, however, not least his World Cup-winning captain. "There's been a lot of talented player have gone to rugby league from the Borders," says Rose.

"Hawick folk will tell you that Dave Valentine was their best ever export. He was about 6ft to 6ft 1in and weighed around the 14st mark, but he never played to 13st; he always played to 15st if you know what I mean. He was an inspirational type through his overall demeanour and was a guy who never complicated the game."

Given his and Valentine's Huddersfield connection, it is a source of additional pride that Scotland will be led out tonight by the club's modern great Danny Brough. Rose presented Brough and his team-mates with their Scotland jerseys ahead of last year's World Cup quarter-final and the former winger is in for another proud moment when he sees Scotland take the field on home soil tonight.

He is hopeful that the Borders will mark the occasion in style. "I'm not sure how the gate will go but I hope there's a great interest and there should be, if only to see how the other half live," he says with a laugh.

He alludes, of course, to a divide that should never have existed and is at long last being bridged.