Hill joins front-runner Ryan on Worcester's coaching shortlist

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The Independent Online

Richard Hill, one of the most highly qualified coaches in English rugby and a man who boasts a sound record of successful team-building, is the latest leading name to be linked with the vacancy at Worcester, whose relegation from the Guinness Premiership will be rubber-stamped by Twickenham as soon as the two-leg promotion final between Bristol and Exeter is decided. Hill spent time at Sixways last week and joins Dean Ryan, the front-runner, on a shortlist that is significantly shorter than appeared to be the case a few days ago.

Both Hill and Ryan have coached Bristol, the favourites to take Worcester's treasured place in the elite league; and both did a tour of duty at Gloucester: indeed, Hill's time at Kingsholm in the late 1990s laid the foundations for Ryan's subsequent success there.

Hill's departure from Bristol towards the end of the 2008-09 campaign was notable for its absence of sweetness and light: indeed, it was ruthlessly handled by the West Country club's management. He has not been seen in the English game since, preferring to remain hidden away in the French wine country of Burgundy, where he is coaching the ambitious third division team Chalon-sur-Saöne.

Meanwhile, Exeter have declared a 9,000 sell-out for the first of their meetings with Bristol, tomorrow night – a record attendance for the Devon club since their move out-of-town to the new Sandy Park stadium. Rob Baxter, their coach, said: "I'm comfortable with playing at home first. Credit to Bristol; they came out of the play-offs with the best record and got to choose. But who's under the most pressure? Will they be under more pressure than us if it's still close after the first leg?"

In the week of the two big European finals – Biarritz versus Toulouse in the Heineken Cup in Paris; Toulon against Cardiff Blues in the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup in Marseilles – the administrators have awarded next year's Heineken showpiece to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Twickenham will host the final in 2012. Those who wondered whether there might be a spreading of the wings in the direction of Italy were left disappointed, although Rome might be considered soon if the newly constituted Azzurri "super-teams" of Treviso and Aironi make a respectable fist of cross-border rugby over the next couple of seasons.

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