Rugby Union: Murray's recovery has Reivers in mint condition

EDINBURGH REIVERS face a testing examination of their Heineken Cup credentials today when they travel to The Gnoll to play their Welsh- Scottish League rivals Neath.

The Scottish super-district travel south having opened their campaign with a win against the French side Grenoble last week and know that another two points will put them in line for at least a play-off place.

With the Scotland wing Cammie Murray restored to the side after recovering from a back spasm and Chris Paterson replacing the veteran Alan Tait in the centre, the Reivers coach, Ian Rankin, is confident his team can build on last weekend's success. But he admits they must become more clinical if they are to make an impression on the competition. Twice at Gala last week they held a healthy lead, only to allow Grenoble back into the match.

"We were well on top at one stage last week and if we had got a score at that time I would have been surprised if Grenoble had come back," Rankin said. "But we didn't put them away and made it difficult for ourselves. We must put points on the board and turn the screw if we are given the opportunity. The level of competition is too high to let our opponents off the hook."

Eventually, two late penalties from the outside-half Duncan Hodge sealed a five-point win but Rankin knows that the Welsh All-Blacks will need little prompting to exploit any sloppy play by their visitors.

The return of Murray for the ineffective Kenny Milligan bolsters the Reivers' back division. Milligan was identified as a weak link by Grenoble but Murray has proved on the World Cup stage that he is an impressive performer in both attack and defence.

Neath lost their Heineken Cup opener at Northampton last week but have already beaten the Reivers in the Welsh-Scottish League this season. However, they were soundly beaten by Glasgow Caledonians a fortnight ago and Rankin has been studying the match video.

"We share information. It is vital that we both do well so any hints they can give us are very valuable," he said.

"We struggled at the start against Neath the last time we played them but had scored three tries by the end and felt we were playing quite well.

"We have our international players back now, so our team is much stronger and it would be nice to think we would be four points clear of Neath on Saturday night."

In the Scottish Premiership, Glasgow Hawks fear the foul weather could be as big a threat to their chances of preserving their lead as rivals Jed-Forest. The sides meet at New Anniesland and Hawks would love to produce a repeat of their opening-day display when they swamped the Borderers at Riverside Park to the tune of 50 points. Hawks will start with the line-up that finished last weekend's victory over Currie at Malleny Park.

Meanwhile, the former London Scottish player Barry Irving is set to make his league debut for West of Scotland against Kelso at Poynder Park. The utility back has been released by Glasgow Caledonians to allow him to get some games under his belt after only being named as a substitute in their European Cup campaign so far.

Elsewhere, Gala enjoy home advantage in the local derby with Melrose, while the champions, Heriot's FP, should keep up their title challenge by beating Currie at Malleny. Watsonians will be slight favourites to edge out Hawick at Myreside.

Five English clubs made winning starts to the second-tier European Shield tournament last weekend - London Irish, Bristol, Gloucester, Newcastle and Bedford all beating tough opposition.

London Irish, Stoop conquerors of 1997 European champions Brive, go to Agen today, with tomorrow's Shield action seeing Bristol hosting Calvisano, Newcastle at home to Aurillac, Gloucester tackling Spain in Madrid and Bedford travelling to Rovigo in Italy.

"I am terribly excited to be playing in Europe," the London Irish coach, Dick Best, said. "Our domestic rugby was becoming so insular and incestuous - a treadmill with everyone knowing everyone else. For us the European Shield is all about learning on the hoof."

Newport have home advantage against Castres in probably the weekend's outstanding Shield fixture, but have been deprived of Jason Jones-Hughes' services.

The Australian centre, who won two Welsh caps during the World Cup, is unable to turn out because clearance from his contractual obligations in his own country was not received before the Shield registration deadline date.