Scotland's national rugby team is facing criticism from animal rights activists following claims players were made to kill rabbits with their bare hands.

The bizarre training exercise took place at a camp in France last June ahead of the rugby world cup, but was only revealed at the weekend when a former player spoke out.

Retired forward Jim Hamilton claimed head coach Vern Cotter organised the event where players were told to batter the animals to death to "toughen them up".

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Animal rights campaigners hit out at the "cruelty" last night and called on rugby bosses to justify what the violent act had to do with sporting success.

Elisa Allen, UK director of charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said: "Turning rugby players into killers won't improve their game, and to call it 'unsporting' is an understatement.

"Crushing the skulls of rabbits and slitting their throats are terrifying and agonising ways to kill these sensitive, intelligent animals, and such violent acts may be illegal in France, where this cruelty allegedly occurred.

"PETA is calling on authorities to investigate and also asking the rugby league to take immediate action to put a stop to any further 'training' with animals."

Speaking on the Rugby Pod podcast, Hamilton claimed Cotter, who was dressed in "full outdoor hunter gear", picked on Scotland lock Richie Gray when he asked not to take part in the slaughter.

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Hamilton said: "[Cotter] said 'right lads, we've got four hours, we're cooking this for dinner, who doesn't want to kill the rabbits?'.

"Richie Gray puts his hand up, along with Ross Ford, Stuart Hogg and another guy. Vern then told them 'right, you four are killing the rabbits'.

"So the boys had to go and kill the other three. Richie is spinning this thing round and he's saying that he can't slam it, and Vern shouts 'f**kin' kill it!'."

Scottish Rugby have refused to comment on the incident, however the Mail on Sunday reports that a Murrayfield insider claimed that some of what Hamilton described had been exaggerated.