Following Friday's latest setback, Glasgow Caledonians could be set for a major boost in the recruitment of a player with the reputation of being one of the most reliable goal-kickers in South African rugby.

Reports from the Republic indicate Luke Smith is on the point of leaving provincial side Border to come to Scotland, and, while Glasgow Caledonians officials are unwilling to be drawn on the subject, their need to find a quality player to provide cover and competition for Tommy Hayes was highlighted when the stand-off was unable to play in Friday's defeat by Ulster.

''Luke Smith's agent has come to us and asked he be released early from his contract on August 31, in order that he can pursue a career in Scotland,'' Border chief executive Hannus Pretorius confirmed. ''The union, while sad to see him go, have agreed to his request.''

He is expected to sign for Glasgow Caledonians this week, subject to clearance from South Africa, qualification for a work permit and passing a medical, there being some cause for concern since he has suffered serious knee injuries which have restricted his progress in South Africa.

His goal-kicking reliability was such he was seen as a natural replacement for Naas Botha by Northern Transvaal when the legendary fly half retired in the early nineties, before moving on to Natal four years ago.

He lost his regular place in their side when French play-maker Thierry Lacroix joined them following the World Cup and since another switch to Border six months ago that knee trouble has largely kept him out of action.

On the evidence of Friday evening, though, reinforcements can't come soon enough for Scotland's injury-blighted professional teams, Glasgow Caledonians being left with cause for further concern with Gareth Flockhart and Tom Smith the latest to need treatment.

Smith suffered a heavy knock to his knee leaving him doubtful for this week's meeting with Connacht at Bridgehaugh, but there is even more worry over Flockhart who was, last night, waiting to find out if his ankle is broken.

Those were injuries added to insult for Glasgow Caledonians who were beaten 32-15 by Ulster, a province beaten home and away in last season's European Cup by pre-merger Glasgow district.

Much has been made of the improvements to Ulster's squad in the interim, but, for their part, Glasgow should hardly have been hampered by their recruitment of the pick of the Caledonia Reds squad, including internationalists Stewart Campbell, Stuart Grimes, Gordon Simpson, Derrick Patterson and Rowen Shepherd as well as Smith, all of whom were available for the Ulster match.

Their performance in Belfast left coach Keith Robertson almost foaming at the mouth in the immediate aftermath, calming down sufficiently to suggest his players must ''decide now whether we want this hard enough.''

It was a similar tale on the other side of the Irish border where Edinburgh Reivers lost 27-22 to Munster, leaving their coach, Ian Rankin, to suspect his men might have underestimated the opposition.

The general inclination has been to reserve judgment on these two new sides as the coaches bid, in each case, to bring the elite members of two together. However, the SRU's insistence on their being referred to as superteams has, so far, been somewhat unfortunate, with only a single win in eight matches between them so far.

Certainly, we must all acknowledge it is time for the excuses to end, and, as Robertson put it, for ''the guys to take a good look at themselves in the mirror and decide where they are at.''

Admittedly, the quality of opposition in their early matches was initially of an exceptionally high standard. However, both sides were confidently expected to win in Ireland and those defeats will be interpreted in some quarters as proof the mergers of the districts have failed.

It is still too early to make any such assessment, but it must be remembered national director of rugby Jim Telfer and the majority of his coaching staff were not in favour of reducing the number of teams from four to two.

Indeed, one leading figure in the game suggested to me that the SRU would have been better served by increasing the number of districts to five or six.

By fielding only two sides there was a real danger, he suggested, of creating a comfort zone, with the presence of so few professional players leaving them feeling almost automatically guaranteed of involvement in Scotland or Scotland A squads.

The criticism they are now coming in for should, though, create much more of a discomfort zone to which, hopefully, they will react the right way.