THIRTY-SIX of Scotland's top players, two-thirds of those invited to do so, have now signed contracts with the Scottish Rugby Union to make them professional rugby players.

The contracts, worth between #20,000-#50,000 a year, have been the subject of serious negotiation between the players and the union since Murrayfield's rugby chairman Duncan Paterson mapped Scotland's preferred route to professionalism nine weeks ago.

Fifty-four players were initially offered contracts and negotiations are continuing with the England-based players and with nine others, including Edinburgh Academicals' Scott Murray, who has, in the interim, signed a #100,000 deal with English club Bedford, and GHK's Shade Munro, who is currently in New Zealand playing for Bay of Plenty.

A Murrayfield news conference was told yesterday that talks were continuing, too, with home-based Scots Kenny Logan, Scott Hastings, Duncan Hodge, Graham Ellis, Carl Hogg, Peter Wright and Stewart Campbell.

The SRU's lead negotiator Ken Crichton said that Ellis, who is a schoolteacher, and advertising executive Hastings - Scotland's cap record-holder - had existing contractual arrangements with employers which would have to be resolved.

Watsonians' stand-off Hodge is a university student who has also been offered a deal with South African provincial side North Transvaal, while Logan is known to favour a one-year deal. Wright and Campbell have already signed professional terms with Melrose.

The SRU contracts, which now have a 1999 World Cup element built in, cover the three-year period until November of that year. The situation with Melrose's Hogg, said Crichton, was complicated by the fact that he was rehabilitating from long-term injury.

Paterson, who took the opportunity at yesterday's news conference to underline the SRU's antipathy towards cross-Border raiders in the shape of the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs association, said: ``Entrepreneurs wanting to make money from the game aren't in it to be philanthropic.

``The sound of cash tills, rather than the development of the game, is their motivation. It was against that emerging background that we published our report, Strategy for Scottish Success in the Open Future, one of the most radical and far-reaching strategies in the history of the SRU.''

Paterson added that it was ludicrous to suggest that, because the union had chosen to follow the district route for the continued well-being of the Scottish game at world level, the SRU were anti-club.

He said the Scottish structure which the SRU were now intent on following bore a close resemblance to that which had won the World Cup for Australia in 1991.

``Like it or not, we need district rugby. We needed to find a balance between the needs of the clubs and the realities of international competition. If we had not done so, then we would be looking at the gradual decline of Scotland as a rugby-playing nation,'' he added.

Paterson said that the proposals announced by the European Rugby Federation earlier this week for a Europe-wide league and cup structure remained hypothetical meantime. ``However, if the ERF plans become more concrete, then we as a union will look at them. We would be silly not to. Our players have to be playing at the highest level available to them,'' he said.

However, the indications are - in view of the fact that the four Scottish districts are now constituted as clubs in their own right - that the SRU's preferred option would be for the district sides, operating as clubs, to fill the four places being offered to Scotland under the ERF proposals.

Scottish Borders captain Bryan Redpath, who was present at yesterday's news conference before flying to France for the Borderers' European Cup-tie against Pau tomorrow, said he was glad to have got the contractual negotiations out of the way and was now simply looking forward to playing.

What the SRU deal meant to him, he said, was that as a carpenter he would no longer be running around on building sites. ``We will all be training regularly at Murrayfield, as opposed to with our districts, and it can only be good for the players and for the Scottish game in general to have us all training day in, day out, on a regular basis,'' he said.

SRU contracted players: Graeme Beveridge, Steven Brotherstone, Nick Broughton, Millan Browne, Gordon Bulloch, Darren Burns, Graeme Burns, Craig Chalmers, Graham Dall, Ian Elliot, Gareth Flockhart, Cameron Glasgow, Hugh Gilmour, Paddy Haslett, Jim Hay, Ian Jardine, Stuart Lang, Kevin McKenzie, John Manson, Cameron Murray, Scott Nichol, Guy Perrett, Bryan Redpath, Steven Reed, Stuart Reid, Brian Renwick, Rowen Shepherd, Graham Shiel, Tom Smith, Tony Stanger, Derek Stark, Barry Stewart, Rob Wainwright, Murray Wallace, Alan Watt and Scott Welsh.