Resurgent Scotland set Hansen tough test

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The Independent Online

It was Clive Woodward who, prior to the 1999 Rugby World Cup, invited his critics to judge him on England's results in the tournament. A good job they did not, because look where England are now.

Unfortunately, a paraphrase of that invitation from the Wales coach, Steve Hansen, sounds less of a challenge, more a temptation. "When we get to the World Cup, that is when we should be judged on our rugby," he argues. The chances of the Welsh Rugby Union completing a hat-trick by sacking Hansen just weeks before the World Cup are remote, but the New Zealander should still not invite it.

Ron Waldron was dumped not long before the 1991 World Cup and his successor, Alan Davies, departed in the build-up to the next tournament.

There is no doubt Hansen is under severe pressure and today's match against a bubbling Scotland side represents a last chance to convince everyone - the WRU, spectators, the rest of the rugby world and, perhaps most importantly, the players - that Wales really do have a squad that can compete with the best.

Since Hansen took over from Graham Henry in February last year his side have lost 15 times, and of their five victories under him only one has been against "top eight" opposition, when beating Italy in March last year, while the other four have included two against Romania - the most recent earlier this week - and wins over Canada and Fiji.

Little wonder Welsh confidence is shaky. In contrast, Scotland are brimming with the stuff. A sound summer tour to South Africa saw them lose both Tests, but not badly, and the veteran back Gregor Townsend said: "I couldn't believe how far we came on."

The Scots are playing an expansive game that involves more handling from forwards as well as backs. "The back three are stepping up rather than waiting for the ball to come to them, and the forwards have shown pretty good skills," Townsend said. "It gives us more chance of winning."

Hansen, though, was delighted with the passion and enthusiasm shown by his side when beating Romania in Wrexham three days ago. "All 22 against Romania enhanced their standing in terms of selection," he said.

But the coach himself has a little way to go. While he believes the short-term pain of the last 12 months can provide long-term gain for the national sport, too much more pain and it is Hansen's tenure that is likely to prove short-term.

Wales: G Evans; J Robinson, T Shanklin, I Harris, M Watkins; C Sweeney, D Peel; A Popham, R Parks, C Charvis, M Owen, V Cooper, A Jones, R McBryde, D Jones. Replacements: H Bennett, B Evans, G Llewellyn, R Oakley, M Phillips, N Robinson, H Luscombe.

Scotland: G Metcalfe; R Kerr, A Craig, B Laney, S Danielli; G Townsend, G Beveridge; J Petrie, A Mower, M Leslie, S Grimes, S Murray, B Douglas, G Bulloch, G Kerr. Replacements: D Hall, G McIlwham, N Hines, A Dall, M Blair, A Henderson, C Paterson.

Referee: C White (England)