Three compete for Wales job as expectations mount

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The Independent Online

Wales expect to announce Steve Hansen's successor as coach within the next month, but the new man will not take over until the New Zealander has completed his contract at the end of the Six Nations.

The Welsh Rugby Union wants to get the matter sorted out quickly and yesterday the chairman, David Pickering, said: "We have not started the interviews yet, but we are hoping to complete them before the end of the month and make a decision early in March, certainly before the end of the Six Nations.

"We are down to a short list of three and we are very pleased with the quality of the applicants. We have said in an ideal world we would have a Welshman to coach, but that is not the main criterion in the selection process." One of the three is believed to be the Llanelli coach, Gareth Jenkins, while Scott Johnson, Hansen's assistant, is also thought to be on the shortlist with the former Gloucester coach Philippe Saint-André.

But in Cardiff yesterday all eyes were on the present and the opening Six Nations match against Scotland as the incumbent Hansen focused on the difference between this year's tournament and last year's.

"There's a big difference between this year's expectations and previous ones, because we can justify this year's by looking at our performances in the World Cup, whereas before we had neither results nor good performances for justification," Hansen said yesterday.

"We were beaten in Australia by two of the top teams in the world, England and New Zealand. Our performances would have been good enough to have beaten most other sides. Expectations in Wales are high but they are warranted and we need to look at that as a good thing not a bad thing."

Meanwhile Scotland's coach, Matt Williams, heralded a new era yesterday by naming three uncapped players in his team to face Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

In come the Edinburgh utility back Tom Philip, the Borders scrum-half Chris Cusiter and Allister Hogg, the Edinburgh back-row forward. Williams said: "The three of them deserve this chance; experience is the only way for these guys to get better." Their inclusion meant a couple of shocks for more experienced players. The Sale flanker Jason White finds himself dropped to the bench where he is joined by Edinburgh scrum-half Mike Blair.

And if it was the start of a new era, it was also the end of another, with the announcement that Budge Pountney, the former Scottish flanker, has retired from the professional game.

Pountney broke an ankle in a pre-season friendly between his club, Northampton, and Cardiff, and has not recovered.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my career - it's been a fantastic time. I have loved every minute of it. I intend to stay within the game. During the last six months I have had plenty of time to learn some coaching skills ... with Saints and I hope this will stand me in good stead for the future."