MURRAYFIELD chiefs surprised Scottish rugby yesterday by halving the number of teams who will compete in Europe next season.

The money-saving move was immediately condemned by several top players and administrators, who described it as a ''kick in the teeth.''

And despite speculation over the future of supremo Jim Telfer, who has been soundly defeated in his crusade aimed at ensuring that all four districts remained separate, the SRU insisted he would not resign.

Instead of a four-pronged attack on the European stage, Scotland will be represented by two so-called super provinces.

The two most successful sides in the Heineken Cup to date - Glasgow and Caledonia Reds - will amalgamate, while newly-crowned District champions Edinburgh will link up with the Border Reivers.

Scotland's most-capped player, Scott Hastings, was stunned by the decision, and also the manner in which he heard about it.

Hastings, who helped Edinburgh lift the District title after they had been rated as likely wooden spoonists, revealed: ''I was actually told by one of the gatemen at Murrayfield, which seemed a bit strange.

''I don't know where it all leaves us for the remainder of the season, or me for the rest of my career.''

''I am in situation where I was hoping to get a further contract and another year out of this great game. Unfortunately, I could now be crowded out because two squads of talented players will be squeezed into one.

''I am sitting waiting to hear my fate. It is yet another messy issue which needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. It also makes you wonder what will happen to certain players who are on three-year contracts.''

Telfer, who doubles as Scotland's national chief coach, has consistently been the loudest advocate of the four-district set-up, insisting it was the best way to create strength in depth at Test level.

SRU spokesman Derek Douglas, however, stressed that despite the defeat, Telfer would not quit. He declared: ''Any thought of Jim Telfer resigning wants to be knocked on the head right away.

''However, he has indicated that although he would have preferred the status quo he will now bring his best and considerable endeavours to bear upon making the new structure a success.''

q John Beattie, Alan Lorimer, and David Kelso report

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