Contracts talk haunts kick-off

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The Independent Online
The champions, Melrose, start as strong favourites to claim a sixth title in eight years when the Tennents Premiership kicks off in Scotland today against a background of unrest on the international front.

The Scotland captain, Rob Wainwright, is signatory to a letter calling a players' meeting to be held in Edinburgh tomorrow and expected to discuss conditions included in contracts offered this week by the Scottish Rugby Union to 44 home based players and 12 exiles.

Amid suggestions that the money on offer - pounds 20,000-pounds 50,000 - is regarded as insufficient in some quarters, Wainwright claims the original deadline for returning the contract to Murrayfield was unrealistic. He said yesterday: "Our lawyer has spoken to the SRU and got them to lift the 29 August deadline. You can't expect people to decide on their careers in three days. It's all being done through our lawyers who are looking at every aspect of the document before players sign."

Apart from the ban on players contributing newspaper columns under the terms of the contract, there are also concerns over the amount of club rugby they will fit in next season when more emphasis is placed on inter- district competition.

Keith Robertson, the chief executive of Scottish First Division Rugby Limited, is also involved in Sunday's meeting and will hope to urge the players to secure guarantees safeguarding the future role of clubs. Unless Robertson is successful then Scotland could be about to embark on the last club championship featuring top players on a regular basis. That would particularly frustrate Melrose who have recruited internationals Peter Wright, Derek Stark, Scott Nichol and Stewart Campbell with a view to gaining entry to the European Cup.

Campbell is already on the injured list and misses today's clash with Stirling County who will be without the Scotland pair Kevin McKenzie and Ian Jardine.

Despite losing Stark and Wright, Boroughmuir are expected to provide the main challenge to Melrose when they open today against Hawick, one of the few top clubs who will not to be paying players. Not only that, Hawick's squad voted that the pounds 15,000 prize for winning the Scottish Cup last season should be invested in facilities.

Elsewhere today, Watsonians visit Jed-Forest without Scott Hastings, who is resting a knee strain. Jed-Forest, like Currie and Heriot's who meet at Malleny Park, are likely to be particularly glad that reconstruction to increase the number of clubs in the top flight from eight to 10 means no relegation this season.

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