DISENCHANTED and wearie Edinburgh Reivers players were yesterday on the brink of sparking the first ''industrial dispute'' since the sport turned professional.

Only the intervention of their chief executive and team manager, Nick Oswald, staved off what could have developed into a full-scale rebellion.

Feelings boiled over as the superdistrict's successful on-field but otherwise ill-fated WRU Challenge Trophy campaign was dealt a sting in the tail.

The squad had been told in good faith after Wednesday's win over Caerphilly that there was no need to play in tomorrow's third-place play-off clash with Bridgend and the game was off.

Welsh Rugby Union officials had granted Oswald's request for the tie to be postponed due to travel and hotel complications - and the fact his exhausted Reivers had been forced to take part in three gruelling matches in six days.

However, seconds before they were due to leave their Newport base to return home, they were told the game was back on. The bemused players were marched off their bus and back into the hotel.

After various to-ing and fro-ing, a compromise of sorts was reached. The players, including Scotland captain Bryan Redpath, were told they could, indeed, return home yesterday - but would have to fly south again today to prepare to face Bridgend at The Brewery Field. Oswald, who clearly had the welfare of his men at heart, said: ''We wanted to be as fair to them as pos-sible as they have put up with a lot of hassle over the past couple of weeks. We told them they were going home - and they had made arrangements and family commitments.''

A senior player added: ''The whole tournament has been a bit of a farce - but this put the icing on the cake. Most of the guys just said 'no way'.''

Oswald confirmed that the Reivers were obliged to fulfil tomorrow's game as Bridgend had pulled out of their Welsh Cup tie against local rivals

Nanttymoel to take part in the WRU play-off.

The carry-on underlined the belief that there had been a communications breakdown between the club and the WRU, who had given their blessing to the Reivers to pull out before the end of the competition.

Explaining that initial request, Oswald said: ''It was a very difficult decision to have to take and we had to weigh up a lot of things.

''The Welsh union extended an invitation to ourselves and the Reds and we have all been very grateful to take part - but, unfortunately, the weather had beaten us. I spoke with the Welsh union regularly throughout the tournament and they were extremely understanding all the way.

''They have been very sympathetic, particularly to the circumstances surrounding the Pontypridd, game which was called off three times.

''Caerphilly was our third game in six days and we knew there would be a good chance of earning a place in the third-fourth play-off.

''That would have meant a fourth game in eight or nine days and we felt that was a game too far for the players. We were also mindful of the fact that just round the corner are the Five Nations, A internationals, and matches involving the Combined Districts. The WRU fully respected our decision to pull out.''