EDINBURGH Reivers today have their first real chance to evaluate how much better their new squad are to the 1999/2000 version.
With few first-choice players missing, Reivers go into their 60-minute friendly with Bath -they also play Keynsham in a round-robin tournament - completing a week’s training camp in the west country, in rude health.
Having signed a host of new faces in the summer, notably Northampton pair Don Mackinnon and Richard Metcalfe, and leading club players Simon Taylor and Gordon Ross, Reivers are confident of improving on last season’s display.
While the Scottish-Welsh League kicks off first on 26 August, qualifying for the quarter-finals of the European Cup remains the prime target. There, the crucial factor will be whether the Scottish side can compete with English quality, as Northampton again stand in their way. That is why Reivers team manager Ian Rankin is keen to see today’s match played to maximum potential.
He said: "Bath are very English in their style which will mean a very good test for us. In saying that, Northampton are a bit more cosmopolitan in terms of their playing staff and so probably play a bit differently, but it will still give us a feeling of the intensity and speed at which they play."
Reivers had a sneak preview of the Bath side in training, when they wandered past the Recreation Ground on a walk through the city, but Rankin insisted it was what his players were capable of that matters.
"There has been a lot of training and talking about what we want to do, but now it’s about putting down a marker. Nobody really knows what we’re capable of, but we’ll know after the match where we are."
There will be some notable absentees tonight night, Martin Leslie and Don Mackinnon both resting injuries, while Iain Fairley and Chris Paterson won’t feature until the second half of the Bath match.
"Martin Leslie went to New Zealand with a groin problem, which has continued to niggle him, but he was scanned this morning and the good news is he only needs time and exercise for it to recover.
"There was a slight concern it might be more deep-rooted and he’d need an operation, but that’s not the case, thankfully."
The quality of opposition is illustrated by the return of British Lion Jeremy Guscott, who hopes to convince himself before the English season kicks off next weekend that he still has the desire and fitness to play top-level club rugby.
Bath spokesperson Helen Mercer confirmed: "There hasn’t been a team named yet, but Jerry will start the match, he’s desperate to play."
Reivers are without Duncan Hodge, who returned to Scotland yesterday to see a specialist for a more in-depth diagnosis on a long-term shoulder injury. However, it gives an early chance to Scottish club rugby’s top scorer last season, Gordon Ross, to prove his ability.
Glasgow Caledonians could lift their first silverware of the season tomorrow. With both British Columbia and the Reds having easily beaten the Pacific Coast Grizzlies in Vancouver -the Scots winning 55-14 with a Roland Reid hat-trick on Wednesday - tomorrow’s clash represents the final of the inaugural Coastal Cup.
Edinburgh Reivers (to play Keynsham): S Lang; C Murray, M Di Rollo. K Utterson, C Joiner; G Ross, M Lee; C Smith, P Robertson, B Douglas, A Lucking, I Fullarton, T Weir, G Dall capt, S Taylor. Subs: D Lee, C Paterson, G Burns, S Scott, A Jacobsen, N Hines.
Edinburgh Reivers (to play Bath): D Lee; K Milligan, D Officer, G Shiel capt, C Sharman; G Ross, G Burns; A Jacobsen, S Scott, B Stewart, N Hines, R Metcalfe, T Weir, G Dall, S Taylor.