BORDERS captain Kevin Utterson is determined to inspire his Heineken Cup debut squad to a surprise cross-channel win against Agen tonight and lay a few personal demons in the process.
The Test centre, explained: "I’ve got bitter personal memories of playing in France. The last time I was there was for my first Scotland cap, which was a landmark for me, but we ended up on the wrong end of a record scoreline. Before that, it was with the Borders when we lost out to Montauban in the Parker Pen a year ago. It really is a wonderful country - but in purely rugby terms, it is such a difficult place to get a positive result.
"Hopefully we will have learned a lesson or two from the Montauban games and we can sneak a win."
Utterson admitted his men would have to step up several notches from their lamentable display against Ulster in Belfast last weekend. "We were simply not in the game at Ravenhill and if we don’t click from the kick-off we will again be on the receiving end," he said.
"We are not embarking on some sort of damage-limitation exercise. We believe we can win and we won’t be happy unless we take something home from the match."
Agen have a formidable home record, not having lost there for almost two seasons. They may be regarded as a small-time club compared to neighbours Toulouse - but they have shown consistent ability to punch above their weight. They warmed up for the battle with the Borders by disposing of Gregor Townsend’s former club Castres 22-10 in a French league match last weekend.
Francois Gelez was the man who made the difference with four crucial penalties, however he finds himelf on the bench for tonight. Veteran French international tight forward Christian Califano has recovered from a calf-strain - but he also stands by to come on as an impact player in the later stages.
Agen will certainly welcome the fact that they will not have to contend with Townsend. The record Scottish cap-holder is still struggling to shake off the effects of a thigh problem picked up in training before the World Cup quarter final against Australia in Brisbane.
Meanwhile, Borders coach Tony Gilbert has congratulated new national head coach Matt Williams for naming Edinburgh and former All Blacks skipper Todd Blackadder as his assistant for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship campaign.
Gilbert said: "This is great news for everyone connected with Scottish rugby. Todd has a rugby wisdom which belies his years along with an exemplary work ethic.
"No matter what team he is involved with, he will be absolutely dedicated to the performance of that side. In coaching terms, it will be a learning curve for him but I am confident he will overcome any lack of experience quickly. He will want the basics done well, he will want quality and he will want the players to work for each other."
• Borders full-back Tanner Vili has been named in a strong New Zealand Barbarians squad for the World Cup celebration match against England at Twickenham on 20 December. The Baa-Baas will be led by former All Black captain Taine Randell and also include Fijian winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca.
Agen: P Elhorga; C Coro, C Stoltz, S Bonetti, L Lafforgue; J Miquel, F Tandonnet; J-J Crenca (capt), N Curnier, O Hasan, S Nouchi, J-M Parent, M Lievremont, S Socol, E Bertrand. Subs: P Piecentini, C Califano, P Blanco, M Kahla, M Barrau, F Gelez, G Bouic
Borders: G Morton; N Walker, J Stuart, K Utterson (capt), C Moir; C Laidlaw, C Cusiter; G Graham, R Ford, B Douglas, D Weir, S MacLeod, C Feather, D Kane, S Sititi. Subs: K Todd, C Dunlea, T Walker, A Rennick, I Fairley, A Turnbull, C MacRae.
Referee: G De Santis (Italy)