Scottish Rugby Union founder club West of Scotland are fighting for their survival among the country's elite clubs following the loss of most of the first-team squad.

Club secretary David Johnston was heavily critical of the governing body they had helped form when issuing their desperate appeal for help yesterday after being forced to cancel Thursday's meeting with Hillhead/Jordanhill and today's clash with Currie.

He said SRU policies had contributed to the reduction in their playing base, while he accused a leading official of telling one of their best players, Scotland under-21 centre Andy Henderson, that he should leave the club.

''We are just wondering where it is going to go,'' said Johnston after reporting that at least 14 players have gone.

''We have offered the captaincy to Carlo Di Ciacca (a member of the Scotland squad which finished third in the recent Students World Cup) and the vice-captaincy to Alan Gibbon, (who led the side which won the recent Kelso sevens) but they will not stay around if we don't have a team for them to play with.

''However, there must be some players in the lower leagues who have some ambition and can see this as an opportunity to play in division two.''

It looks unlikely, though, that they will be able to field a side in their second-division clash against Peebles when the BT Cellnet Premiership gets underway next week.

''It is already too late to sign players ahead of the league starting next week, so there is now a real problem with next week's opening league match,'' Johnston explained, adding that they will have particular problems in fielding a front row which is up to standard.

West's problems stem from coach Ivan Torpey's departure at the end of last season after failing to secure an SRU development officer's post.

Former Scotland prop John Manson had continued as forwards coach, but was unwilling to undertake the main responsibility of being club coach.

After a lengthy search for a replacement, West looked to have resolved matters on Tuesday when they announced that New Zealander Graeme Torrie would be joining them as coach, but that, apparently, came too late for the players.

''We know we have to accept some of the blame because of what has been happening in the summer,'' Johnston admitted.

''The message the players were taking from our failure to find a coach was that we couldn't solve the problem.

''I'm sure some of them were looking across the fence, seeing John Manson working with seven people and deciding they wanted to try somewhere else.''

Departing players include Nicky and Richie Craig to Hutcheson's/ Aloysians, Stuart Eynon to Hamilton, Colin Duck to Watsonians, David Jamieson to Ayr, and Fraser Sinclair to East Kilbride, as well as Ross Balmer, Donny Gibb, and Grant Howieson to Glasgow Hawks.

Johnston stressed, though, that there was no ill-feeling towards other clubs, particularly Hawks with whom they could now form a new association since they are in different divisions.

''We are not bitter in any way towards Hawks. It is not that they have been out poaching players. It is down to the players themselves,'' he said.

''The problem is down to what has been happening to the state of club rugby.

'There is no resilience in a situation like this because the players simply are not there, despite what the SRU say about player numbers.''

He also expressed anger at the role he believes Bob Easson, the Scottish Institute of Sport high performance rugby coach (a post which is linked to the SRU) played in undermining them by telling Henderson he should move.

''Andrew was one of the senior players we met with before he went off to Italy with the Students World Cup squad and we told them what the situation was,'' said Johnston.

''There was no indication at that stage that he intended to leave, but then he came on Tuesday with his release papers.

''We asked him where he was going and he said he had not been told yet, that he had interviews with a number of clubs and was waiting for Mr Easson to tell him where he was going.''

''We know Melrose are speaking to him, Currie have been mentioned, and we also think Watsonians may be trying to sign him.

''However, it certainly doesn't help us when the message coming from the Institute of Sport seems

to be that West are not good enough,'' Johnston observed.

In a statement issued through the SRU, Easson denied telling Henderson to move, claiming the player had sought his help before setting off with the Scottish Students and again after returning home to be bombarded with approaches from first-division clubs.

The SRU, meanwhile, expressed concern over West's problems and has offered to meet officials to discuss what can be done, as well as making coaching support available through Glasgow Cale-donians forwards coach Gordon Macpherson, a former West player and coach.

They also noted that three Reds players, Barry Irving, Ian McInroy, and Rory Kerr are linked with West so may be available to play for them later in the season.

Spokesman Graham Law added that SRU director of rugby Jim Telfer had stated that he would be ''more than happy'' for Andy Henderson to remain at Burnbrae.

He also said it is no longer the case that two failures to fulfil league fixtures no longer auto-matically lead to relegation.

Each individual call-off would, though, result in the docking of four league points.

nThe Welsh Rugby Union last night confirmed South Africa will end their European tour later this year with a Millennium Stadium fixture against the Barbarians.

The game has been confirmed for Sunday, December 10, eight days after South Africa face England at Twickenham.

''It is a great honour for the WRU to host such a fixture, which revives a traditional feature of rugby tours to the British Isles,'' said WRU secretary Dennis Gethin.

The Barbarians will be coached by former Australian national team supremo Bob Dwyer, continuing his link with them after this year's successful Whitsun week fixtures against Ireland, Scotland, and English champions Leicester.

Apart from England and the Barbarians, South Africa also play Ireland and Wales on successive weekends in November.