FOUR more members of the Calcutta Cup winning squad, including captain Andy Nicol, yesterday pledged their future to Scottish domestic rugby by signing new deals with Glasgow Caledonian Reds, while the squad was also bolstered by the recruitment of another Scotland-qualified New Zealander.

As when Edinburgh Reivers announced that their captain, Graham Shiel, and young Chris Paterson had re-signed last week, the age range involved was again significant.

While Nicol and prop Gordon McIlwham agreed terms that will keep them in Scotland until the end of their careers, the extended deals agreed with Jason White and Alan Bulloch mean that, along with Paterson, the three youngest members of the current Scotland squad are all staying put.

Michael Bartlett, a 21-year-old product of Super 12 champions Canterbury's rugby academy, is effectively on trial over the next few weeks and is in the Reds team to meet Neath at The Gnoll tomorrow night.

Reds chief executive David Jordan said that they are close to finalising terms with all those members of the squad they want to keep - the vast majority - while they still intend to bring more players in.

That includes looking outside Scotland and he confirmed that they are not hamstrung by the fact that Dave Hilton and Jon Stuart are no longer deemed Scotland qualified since both are being treated as exceptions to the SRU's domestic rule stating that the professional teams can only have two non Scots-qualified players.

As the process of rebuilding the Reds squad got under way, then, it was entirely consistent with his approach at Murrayfield last month, that 29-year-old Nicol led by example.

Few know the pros and cons of playing rugby on either side of the Border better than the man who led Bath to their European Cup triumph in 1998 and whose career has undergone a renaissance this season, confounding those who wrote him off on his return to Scotland. There are many advantages to playing in Scotland and the main one is that they look after you here and don't flog you like in England,'' he explained.

''That is why I am confident in signing such a long deal which will keep me here until the next World Cup in 2003.

''We are not going to be playing 35 or more highly intensive games, so I believe I can stay at the highest level for longer if I play here.

''I was very keen to stay because I believe in what we are trying to achieve long-term,'' he said, expressing confidence that the Reds squad will stay together and be supplemented by further new signings.

''Everyone has bought into what we are trying to do here.

''We feel it is very much a case of unfinished business. We talked a lot about achieving things at the beginning of the season and we haven't done it yet.

''However, I totally disagree with those constantly writing off Scottish rugby.

''A lot of rugby has been thrown around Scottish rugby this year and admittedly the national team didn't help that. However, we have shown what we are capable of against England.

''People don't look at the level we are playing at in the Celtic League, they just presume a lot of things.

''The level is very high and we have fallen below it so far, but that is the challenge in front of us.

''There are people here who are ready to respond to it. You just have to look at the fact that the people who are going to be the major players in Scottish rugby in the next few years, like Jason White and Alan Bulloch, as well as Chris Paterson at the Reivers, have chosen to stay here.''

After his impressive Test debut in the Calcutta Cup match White, in particular, like Paterson, was bound to be a transfer target.

''I had a few offers, but at the moment I really haven't thought about leaving. I am very keen to stay and keep developing my game,'' said the youngest of the trio of 22-year-olds, whose birthday was just last month.

''We have shown glimpses of what we are capable of in the European Cup this season and hopefully we can build on the next year.''

Before that, though, he will be part of the Scotland tour party which will be announced tomorrow and which begins its preparations next week with a team building exercise in the Lake District, similar to the one national coach Ian McGeechan ran with the British Lions in 1997 before their successful tour of South Africa.

Nicol is certain to be named captain of the tour party and voiced his enthusiasm for next week's three day Outward Bound-style get-together which he has discussed with McGeechan.

''When you consider that there are going to be people in this tour party who haven't even been involved with the A team previously, it is very important that we marry everyone together,'' he pointed out.

''Everyone has had a lot of rugby this season, so I fully endorse the fact that we are heading to the Lake District without a rugby ball.

''When I was at Bath we we went for a similar exercise at the commando base at Plymouth and while I was down and was working for a company in Bristol we took part in one that was run by this company, Impact, who are running next week's.

''They were very good and you really see the benefits after a couple of days.

''It just binds everyone together.''

On the grander scale, that is clearly McGeechan's aim for all of Scottish rugby's top players, as he emphasised in welcoming news of the Reds re-signings yesterday.

''The input we can give the players, while at the same time contributing to their welfare is very important,'' he pointed out.

''My role at Murrayfield isn't just about coaching. It is about looking after the whole interests of the player and I hope that players will continue to recognise that.''

Glasgow Caledonian Reds (to meet Neath tomorrow) - T Hayes; M Bartlett, I Jardine, J Stuart, A Bulloch; B Irving, A Nicol, captain; A Watt, G Scott, G McIlwham,

S Campbell, J White, R Reid, D McFadyen,

G Simpson. Replacements - R Couper, I McInroy, F Stott, J Petrie, M Waite, D Herrington,

G Bulloch.