The SRU are pinning their hopes on the creation of a Celtic League for next season to keep their professional superteams together.

Officials believe that is the only way they can realistically expect to keep the majority of Scotland's current professional players in the country.

''We'll have a fixture list by the middle of March,'' domestic game board chairman John Thorburn claimed yesterday. ''I believe that if we can put together an attractive enough schedule for superteams that the majority of Scottish Premier Rugby Ltd (SPRL) clubs will support it.''

He also warned the architects of the SPRL plan to build Scottish professional rugby around the club game - as outlined in The Herald on Saturday - that professional players don't want to return to clubs.

''To the best of my knowledge the players are happy with the superteam concept,'' he said, voicing scepticism over the idea of teams going into Europe without adequate preparation.

It is understood that the SRU is still hoping a British League will be formed in the long term, with the gap being bridged by a Celtic competition involving Welsh clubs and Irish provinces.

However, Jamie Mayer, offered a lucrative deal to join Bristol last week which was blocked by the SRU, has spelt out the leading players' position in making it clear that he still intends to head south.

''I left university to become a full-time player last season and I have to think about my future security and also improving my standards,'' he said.

''As things stand I am not so likely to do that in Scotland. The thought of playing in the English Premiership has tremendous appeal.

''There is anxiety among a lot of players because they are all out of contract in November. They don't feel they have been reassured by the SRU that they have plans to raise the intensity in this country.''

It seems increasingly likely that the SRU will have to resign themselves to losing likes of Mayer, Gordon Bulloch, Stuart Grimes and Tom Smith. However, Scotland's international management made it clear that players will be held to their contracts.

''Basically we are telling everybody to leave our players alone until after the World Cup,'' said Scotland manager Arthur Hastie, stressing the need to keep players under SRU control.

Yet Mayer, who noted that even if he had been allowed to join Bristol nothing would have been allowed to interfere with his availability for Scotland's plans, also made the point that it will be in the SRU's interests for players to sort things out quickly, rather than be negotiating deals during the build-up to the World Cup and the competition itself.

But Scotland coach Jim Telfer warned that players should weigh their options carefully. ''Bristol went for Jamie Mayer because they had lost three centres, but in general we feel players should take a bit more time to think about these things,'' he said. ''They would do well to think of these things in the long-term as well as the short-term.

''We also want to tell the Scottish public and Scottish clubs that we want to keep the best players here.''