WILL this year's Five Nations' Champion-ship, the first openly professional tournament, which kicks off in Dublin and Paris this weekend, also be the last? Italy have already seen off Ireland and Scotland in recent times, and came close against Wales last night. Are they not entitled to a seat at the feast?

Romania and Spain are others who would instantly fax an acceptance to any invitation to join. More teams, more games, more television coverage, more money. And more problems for the game's legislators, who are already giving their legendary impression of headless chickens.

At the special general meeting of the Rugby Football Union in Birmingham on Sunday, the secretary of a club called Pinner and Grammarians, one David Hiles, declared: ``I have never seen such a shambles. I have never known such unprofessionalism.'' And Mr Hiles is a life-long trade union activist.

Well, brother David, I could not have put it better. Since the International Board decided to play Pontius Pilate instead of Solomon our grand old game has been thrown into utter chaos.

Where does England stand now, following Sunday's meeting during which there was a grass-roots rebellion against embracing professionalism? Will the top clubs break away and form their own money-making association? And what will be the long-term outcome of a similar meeting in Scotland next month, when the question of European participation is discussed? I doubt if Mystic Meg could tell us.

Let me go back to where I started. Despite the temptations of extra cash I believe the Five Nations' Championship should be left much as it is for the foreseeable future. Yes, I would play one game on a Saturday and the other on the Sunday to avoid double-headers; this would also double the television audience. But I would not increase the number of participants.

During the journey to and from Leicester on Saturday, I had the opportunity to chat to Ken Crichton of Stirling County, one of the safest pair of hands on the SRU committee, and he made a telling point about the demands of internationals.

``When you and I were boys football internationals were on Saturdays, and they were great events. When last was a football international played on a Saturday? The hard fact is that, for many players and supporters, club games are more important and more financially rewarding.

``We must be careful about increasing the number of internationals, of devaluing them. Rugby is a harder physical game than football. Players need more time to recover.''

That is absolutely right. I recall looking round the dressing room after the Scotland-New Zealand World Cup game and wishing some of the critics could see the effects of the hits on the players' bodies. It hurts a lot to play top-class rugby.

And, of course, players deserve to be paid for their skills. The English vote for amateurism, while understandable, is like locking the dressing room door after the professionals have taken the field.

Any club can remain amateur if it wishes to do so. None of the first divsion clubs, in any country, will decide to travel down that trail. At that level, and among the home unions, a new breed of adminstrator, highly paid and completely in tune with modern business practice, will be required.

Most of all, however, I care about making sure that Scotland can still compete at the highest level; to do that we need a structure which encourages excellence. Right now we don't have one. The ``funeral' of the district leagues competition would be well attended.

The ``who plays in Europe?'' saga has to be settled quickly. That is why I urged the SRU to call a special meeting themselves; by waiting for the clubs to do it they have been forced on to the back foot.

I understand completely the union's view that districts rather than clubs should compete in the first instance. But I have to say that I do not believe it is a position that can be maintained for ever.

Firstly, I do not think the organisers of the European Cup will permit district or provincial sides much longer - the event was designed as a club competition.

Secondly, I do not think you can forever stifle club ambition. Someone in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or maybe even Stirling or Melrose, is going to come up with the cash to create superclubs. This will probably mean mergers, the break-up of old loyalties, a painful, but inevitable, result of professionalism.

Without superclubs most Scottish internationalists will be playing their club rugby in England, where the big money is. How then are Scottish districts to compete in Europe? In the short term, the SRU must sort out the qualifications for the district sides. We can't have people switching to Edinburgh if they are dropped by Glasgow or popping off to the North and Midlands on a whim. This year's championship was an absurdity.

I don't suppose all this hand-wringing will affect too many in the Tartan Army which is about to march on Dublin. They will be intent on enjoying themselves, on lowering the level in the Guinness lake, on joining in the crack.

Come Monday morning, though, the same problems will still be there.