FURTHER evidence that the player transfer market between Scotland and England is increasingly a two-way affair was provided yesterday when Glasgow Caledonians signed midfielder Jonathan Stuart from Leicester Tigers.

The 23-year-old, who played for Scotland Under-21 two years ago, established himself as something of a regular at inside centre in Leicester's English Premiership-winning side after Australian Pat Howard switched to stand-off to cover for their long-term injured Springbok star Joel Stransky.

Having started last season on the bench Stuart put in 26 first team appearances for Leicester during the campaign, the last of them in their showpiece finale against the Barbarians at Twickenham last month. Yet he was in negotiations with the Scottish side even whilst Leicester were making their title push.

''We have cast a wide net and we started speaking with Jonathan and his representatives around the turn of the year,'' Caledonians' chief executive David Jordan said yesterday.

''He visited us in March to check on the set-up and what their plans for next season were and I'm delighted to say he was impressed with what he saw.''

Comparisons with Leicester's less than flamboyant approach to the game going without saying, the player made it clear that the style of the Scottish game had been a big attraction.

''My main ambition is to play rugby for Scotland and I believe this move will provide me with the best opportunity to achieve that,'' said Stuart.

''Scotland's performances in the Five Nations championship inspired me and, having spoken with the Glasgow Caledonians coaching staff, they have assured me that they intend to play the same 15-man game.''

The need to become better- known in Scotland was clearly a major factor in Stuart's decision to move north, too, since he is far from a household name which in itself is perhaps a further comment on the forward-dominated Leicester way.

''As an SRU employee he is effectively being groomed for the national set-up and he is very excited by the opportunity of being coached by Jim Telfer and Richie Dixon,'' said Jordan.

The chief executive added that he expects Stuart - who spent the 1997/98 season playing for Paris University in the French First Division - to immediately challenge for a place in the superteam's starting line-up.

''He has great experience for such a young player and, although he understands that he'll be part of an extremely strong squad here, anyone who can hold down a first team place at Leicester has to be a very good player,'' he said. ''He is a strong runner and a powerful tackler who takes the ball up very well.''

Though a number of leading Scottish professionals are expected to join clubs in England and France over the next few weeks, the exodus which was anticipated in some quarters has not materialised.

Indeed, Stuart follows international pair Andy Nicol and Derrick Lee by moving in the opposite direction.

''I'm very hopeful that he will be followed by a few others shortly,'' said Jordan, who said that Glasgow Caledonians have only around six more players to recruit for next season.

qSCOTLAND full back Glenn Metcalfe will accompany the Five Nations trophy when it makes its 100th appearance on its nationwide tour in Orkney on Friday.

qGordon Simpson has vowed to consign his injury problems to history and kick-start his international career.

The New Zealand-born forward was forced to miss almost the whole of last season in the wake of making his Scotland debut a year ago against Australia in Sydney.

After major surgery in his native country, Simpson is confident he will be back in top-flight action when the new season begins.

He said: ''The operation was a complete success and I am raring to go. The past 10 months have been very frustrating for me and I have a lot of lost time to make up.''

Despite being resigned to missing Scotland's warm-up mini-tour to South Africa, Simpson's aim is to mount a late challenge for a place in the World Cup.

qFormer Wallaby Steve Merrick has predicted that Ireland would cause Australia problems after they launched their four-match tour with a 43-6 win against New South Wales Country in Woy Woy.

Ireland ran in five tries and Country half-back Merrick, who was scathing about Scotland after acing them last year, was full of praise for the Irish.

''They didn't let us in the game, they cut us to pieces. They played brilliant football,''he said.

''I think they're definitely playing a new type of rugby. They like to throw it around and they've got a lot of good young fellas. They will do well against Australia.''

After Scotland beat Country 29-13 last year, Merrick labelled them soft compared to other international touring teams.

Ireland look capable of building on their improvement during the Five Nations and even threatening Australia in their two Tests on June 12 and 19.