Scotland captain Andy Nicol could be struggling to prove his match fitness for the autumn internationals after it was revealed yesterday that he will require surgery on his injured knee.

Nicol, plagued by knee injuries throughout his career, had hoped a combination of rest and physiotherapy would solve this latest problem which was initially thought to be no more than minor irritation behind the kneecap.

However his need to undergo an exploratory operation headlined a long list of casualties catalogued by crisis team Glasgow Caledonian Reds yesterday.

''Depending on the findings, it is expected that he could return to rugby in four to six weeks,'' stated the official bulletin.

Coach Richie Dixon suggested that was erring on the pessimistic side, but admitted it could leave his captain short of match fitness ahead of the Reds' Heineken Cup campaign.

Since his Reds' rival Graham Beveridge is also Nicol's strongest challenger for his Test place, that could make it very difficult for him to see much action ahead of the meeting with the USA on November 4.

He is one of six Reds internationalists ruled out of tomorrow's meeting with Cross Keys through injury. Ian Jardine, like youngster Barry Irving, picked up a knock during last week's defeat by Caerphilly; Glenn Metcalfe has just resumed training; James McLaren has undergone keyhole surgery on a knee; Shaun Longstaff is recovering from a rib injury; while Stewart Campbell hopes to face Bridgend on Tuesday having struggled to shake off an achilles tendon problem. Also sidelined are Fraser Stott, who underwent knee surgery yesterday and two other long-term injury victims, Rory Kerr and Graeme Kiddie.

But there is better news of Scotland Under-21 captain, Donnie Macfadyen, who hopes to face Neath next Friday, having battled with an ankle problem over the past fortnight.

Those injury problems have not prevented the Reds from releasing two players for club rugby this weekend, though, back-row man Marty Waite lining up for Watsonians, while prop Willie Anderson is in Kirkcaldy's squad. Indeed the professional teams have gone some way towards answering the call for more professional players to be made available to help glamourise the club game, with no fewer than seven Edinburgh Reivers on club duty today.

They are Cammy Mather, who joins Waite in Watsonians' back-row at Gala, Gordon Ross (Heriot's FP), Conan Sharman (Boroughmuir), Stuart Lang (Kelso), Keith Davidson (Hawick), Mark Lee (Jed-Forest) and Kenny Milligan (Stewart's Melville FP). However it is emerging that the club game could receive an even bigger boost to its profile with a huge increase in television exposure.

In recent seasons coverage of the domestic game has been disappointing, with BBC Rugby Special having moved to a late Sunday night slot. Furthermore, the professional teams have dominated that coverage, diluting the amount of air-time available to the clubs.

That looks likely to continue on the BBC, who did not include any matches involving the Scottish teams on their Heineken Cup schedule released this week, but indicated at that stage that discussions with the BBC are on-going.

However it is understood that independent channels STV, Border and Grampian are all involved in discussions with Murrayfield.

A Murrayfield spokesman would not be drawn on the state of negotiations yesterday, saying only: ''We can confirm that positive discussions are on-going.

''The SRU is confident that a television package for domestic rugby will be finalised very


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