Scotland's national rugby team has found itself at the centre of an extraordinary animal rights row after claims players were ordered to kill rabbits with their bare hands.

Shocking details of the bizarre training exercise organised by head coach Vern Cotter came to light yesterday after a former player spoke out.

Retired Scotland forward Jim Hamilton, who attended the camp in France last June ahead of the Rugby World Cup, revealed players were told to batter the animals to death to "toughen them up".

He claims Cotter, who was dressed in 'full outdoor hunter gear', picked on teammate Richie Gray - the 6ft 10in Scotland lock - who asked not to take part in the slaughter.


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.

Vern Cotter, the Scotland head coach looks on during the RBS Six Nations. Photo / Getty Images
Vern Cotter, the Scotland head coach looks on during the RBS Six Nations. Photo / Getty Images

"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'."

Hamilton, who had 63 caps for Scotland and still plays professionally for the London Saracens, told how the squad were marched into the Pyrenees as part of a commando-style training exercise with the French Marines.

Speaking on the popular Rugby Pod podcast last week, Hamilton recalled: "Vern [Cotter] was sitting there in full outdoor hunter gear - big jumper, walking boots and he's got a knife.

"He 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 old them: "right, you four are killing the rabbits!"


"An army guy at the camp pulled out this bunny rabbit - it's not even a wild rabbit - and says: "this is how you need to kill it."

"He's swinging this rabbit round with one hand, then next thing he slams it on the floor.

"I'm not joking, the thing's eyes popped out of its head, then he cuts his throat.

"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***ing kill it!"

"Richie does it, but it's not dead, it's shaking like mad and there's blood everywhere, and he's slamming it over the head with a stick.

"Needless to say, the rabbits didn't taste that succulent - they were a bit tough. But that's all we had for food, with 35 baguettes."

The rabbit incident came as the Scotland squad arrived at their pre-tournament training base at Font Romeu in the Pyrenees.

Hamilton - who wasn't picked by Cotter for the international competition in England added: "Vern said: 'lads, before you go, this is about toughening bloody up - let's see who wants it'."

"We were told we had to walk for six or seven hours, up to a check point in the mountain.

"No sleeping bags, no tents, no kit - there are 40 big rugby players sat around the campfire, and literally we are freezing all night long.

Late last night Hamilton appeared to backtrack from some of his comments, tweeting that the French survival camp at Font Romeu was 'v educational' and that his account of the rabbit deaths had been 'exaggerated'.

The controversial 'team-building' exercise has echoes of the infamous Camp Steel Wire endured by the South African national rugby team ahead of the 2003 World Cup - where players were reportedly made to strip naked at gunpoint and pump up rugby balls in a freezing lake.

The team were said to have been woken every 15 minutes by gunfire while sleeping outdoors and told to climb into a hole, where recordings of the English national anthem and New Zealand's Haka, or war-chant, were played.

Scottish Rugby refused to comment when approached by the Scottish Mail on Sunday last night. However a Murrayfield insider admitted rabbits had been killed by the players at the camp.

The source said: "This was a well organised, well-resourced team-building exercise led by the Marines, where the guys where shown how to survive.

"They were shown, as a survival technique, how to kill rabbits and some took part. It was done properly and humanely and no-one was forced to do it. Vern Cotter did not order any players to do this.

"Unfortunately, some of what Jim Hamilton has talked about on the podcast has been exaggerated."