The sight of Munster's monsters freely roaming the Bridgehaugh paddock unshackled was a truly shocking sight for the home

supporters on Saturday.

Spectators had arrived in Stirling in respectable numbers just four days after their team's fine win over European champions Northampton, hoping for confirmation that this could be the best season so far for Scottish professional rugby.

Instead, this crushing defeat by the beaten Heineken Cup finalists was the worst possible homecoming for a side who had done well on pre-season travels, including winning a tournament in Canada.

Particularly worrying was the manner of a club record failure both in terms of points conceded - the previous worst having been 64-29 to Newport - and margin, exceeding the 62-9 thrashing at the hands of the 1998 Springboks.

Rarely, if ever, have hulking Munster forwards John Langford and Anthoney Foley, in particular, found such freedom on a pitch, having done so little to earn it.

Admittedly, the effect of clocking up so many miles in the previous fortnight had clearly taken its toll, but it was still disturbing to see the Scottish side - who began with eight internationalists on the field and brought on a further four in the course of the game - submit so tamely.

''I think maybe it was a bridge too far for our players,'' coach Richie Dixon said of their recent punishing schedule.

''However, I am very, very disappointed at the way they performed; there is no getting away from that. It was a bit of a wake up call for us.''

The horror of Edinburgh Reivers' 6-1 try count defeat at the hands of Ulster the previous night paled alongside the 11 unanswered touchdowns which followed Jon Petrie's early try.

However, just as premature elation would have been foolish following the Northampton win, so it must be remembered that these, too, were merely friendlies which need not necessarily matter long- term if lessons are learned.

Perhaps the most important one of this past week is the need to find the strongest possible line-up and work around it.

The Reds stuck with their same basic side throughout in Northampton, while their hosts made sweeping changes after dominating early on and greater cohesion saw them through.

By contrast, while they took the chance to test out their reserve strength on Saturday, Munster fielded their strongest side and only made large-scale changes late on, with the game was won and The Reds were already run ragged.

''Full credit to Munster, they came with a full-strength side and played very well. All the things they tried came off and we rather helped them in that,'' Dixon acknowledged.

He denied that complacency had afflicted his side following their victory in Northampton, but made it clear that, regardless of mitigating circumstances, such a spectacular failure to perform had been unacceptable.

''It has been a tough track for them, but that is no excuse for elementary errors. Most of Munster's tries came from our mistakes,'' the coach observed.

Clearly very few have improved their chances of facing Caerphilly in this week's opening Celtic League match, though.

''A lot of our key personnel did not play today,'' said Dixon, singling out the all-international front-row unit of Dave Hilton, Gordon Bulloch and Gordon McIlwham.

''I have a very good idea of my team for Caerphilly. This was a chance for the other players to show, but they were forcing the game and trying too hard at times.

''It was a salutary lesson and I just hope they take the message.''

Yet it had looked wonderfully promising when a delightful piece of skill by Rowen Shepherd, albeit a dangerous manouevre as he threw a long pass behind his back to Gordon Simpson, set up Petrie's try.

The shape of things to come emerged, though, when Langford suddenly found himself in space at a ruck just outside the Caley 22 and galloped 30 metres to the posts.

Peter Stringer broke blind from a scrum to go in untouched from similar range, while John Kelly benefited from one of many turnovers to claim the first of his four tries, the second of which arrived on the interval.

Foley then joined in the rampage with two tries in three minutes early in the second half before Langford again burst clear to score the first of five tries registered in the final quarter.

Those included Kelly's remaining brace, a try for Dominic Crotty after Ronan O'Gara had spotted the space left on the flank by the sin-binned Roland Reid to kick cleverly into the gap,m and Mike Prendegast's break with his second touch of the ball, the first having been to put the ball into the same scrum.

That Scottish referee Rob Dickson felt he had been lenient in his dealings with his countrymen at the tackle, yet sin-binned three of them -- Fraser Stott and Alan Watt also spending 10 minutes on the sidelines - merely compounded his near-namesake's problems.

The loss of openside flanker and Scotland under-21 skipper Donnie Macfadyen - who looks doubtful for Caerphilly, left the ground on crutches and with an ankle heavily strapped - was also hugely disruptive.

However, what is clear is that the battle-hardness coach Dixon felt his side had shown signs of having developed in overcoming both their own schedule and Northampton's impressive opening onslaught at Franklin's Gardens on Tuesday, has not yet permeated the whole squad.

To seize upon the weekend results, as some may, as proof that Ireland's current system of mixing club and provincial rugby is better than Scotland's, would be both sad and opportunistic.

What should perhaps be considered is the calibre of team which will enhance the overall quality of the Celtic League next year.

The Irish now very much want into that competition; in losing 17 tries to two over the weekend, their Scottish cousins have received a timely reminder of what to expect when they arrive.

Glasgow Caledonian Reds: T Hayes; J Craig, R Shepherd (I Jardine 2-3), J Stuart, R Reid; M McKenzie, G Beveridge (F Stott 71); A Watt, G Scott (G Bulloch 54), W Anderson (G McIlwham 40), C Stewart (D Burns 40), J White, G Simpson (D Hilton 54-64), D Macfadyen (G Flockhart 17), J Petrie.

Munster: D Crotty; J O'Neill (P Bracken 56), J Kelly, J Holland, A Horgan; R O'Gara (Stringer 76), P Stringer (M Prendegast 72); M Horan (D O'Sullivan 56), F Sheahan, P Clohessy, M Galway, J Langford, A Quinlan, D Wallace (C McMahon 56), A Foley.

Scoring sequence. (Reds first): 7-0,7-7,7-14,7-21,7-28(half-time);7-35,7-42,7-47,7-54,7-59,7-66,7-73 Scorers. Reds: try - Petrie (7); con - McKenzie (7). Munster: tries - Langford (11, 63), Stringer (22), Kelly (27, 40, 64, 80), Foley (49, 52), Crotty (66), Prendegast (72); cons - O'Gara (11, 22, 27, 40, 49, 52, 64, 72), Holland (80).

Referee - R Dickson (Madras FP .

n As the Boroughmuir players celebrated winning the Edinburgh Cup, coach Iain Paxton talked of his optimism for the new campaign, and how, in hindsight, Boroughmuir's relegation from he top flight some 18 months ago has been a blessing in disguise.

He said: ''Going down wasn't a pleasant experience, but it was the turning point. The millstone of being a club that had never been relegated is away now.

''We had a great season last year and things have started reasonably well this year.

'Muir's 10-7 final victory over Heriot's was achieved with a squad containing a number of fringe layers, but Paxton was delighted to give these lads a run and let them prove themselves. Heriot', too, were short of some of their likely first team men, but the depth of talent at Goldenacre and Meggetland was evident. Results

First round: Haddington 17, Currie 7; Stewarts/Melville 6, Watsonians 0; Boroughmuir 33, Preston Lodge 0. Semi-finals: Boroughmuir 8, Stewarts/Melville 0; Heriot's51, Haddington 0. Final: Boroughmuir 10, Heriot's 7.