aA rugby player who left an opponent permanently disfigured following an assault on the pitch in a ''friendly'' game was granted an absolute discharge yesterday but was ordered to pay his victim a compensation order.

In an unusual move, Sheriff James Penman combined the absolute discharge - which means that rugby player Alan Perrie has not been convicted of the charge despite admitting his guilt - with a #1500 compensation order.

Edinburgh Sheriff Court had earlier heard that Perrie, a prop forward for Glasgow Hawks, punched Edinburgh Academicals player Craig Murray so hard in the face that he is permanently scarred.

Perrie, 36, was suspended from the sport for six months by the Scottish Rugby Union following the assault in October 1997, which effectively ended his career.

Fiscal depute Neil Allan said a scuffle broke out in the first ever match between the Glasgow team, newly amalgamated from smaller teams, and its Edinburgh rival.

The game had been an afternoon warm-up match in Edinburgh before the official start of the league. Until Perrie's assault, it had been ''clean without any bad blood'', Mr Allan said.

Mr Murray, then 22, was playing in the centre for the Edinburgh side when one of his teammates passed the ball to him near the Hawks' touchline. He was tackled as he went to catch it and it was knocked on. As the referee blew his whistle, Mr Murray fell to the ground, grabbing the ball and was holding it in his hands when Perrie landed on top of him.

The men stood up and a scuffle, involving pushing, broke out. Perrie punched Mr Murray in the face, leaving him with a cut across his eyebrow which required stitching and a displaced nose. The stitches have left a permanent scar.

Perrie, of Raploch Road, Larkhall, had pled guilty to assault to permanent disfigurement.