The usual suspects are lined up for what is being billed as Britain's next big pub auction, the sale of 740 pubs by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, which is due to be completed in June.

Although S&N has received indications of interest from Enterprise Inns, which runs almost 2,600 tenanted pubs, and Greene King, the brewing and pubs group that has 1,565 outlets, the main interest is expected to come from Nomura, Punch, Pubmaster and Robert Breare.

All four have gone hand-to-hand in fights for big blocks of pubs already this year, either the 3,010 put up for sale, or the 1,700 owned by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries, or both.

S&N put an initial 920 smaller managed pubs up for sale two months ago. However, 180 are expected to be transferred to leased pubs and then sold, in a deal similar to that in February last year, when it sold 481 leased pubs to the Royal Bank of Scotland for £180m, with the pubs remaining under S&N management.

It is now inspecting initial offers for the 740 other pubs, offers which are going to have to be around £400m.

Pubmaster's interest in the S&N pubs is believed to involve a plan to convert the S&N pubs to tenancies. They would help to fill in the company's geographic weaknesses in southern England and Scotland.

At the same time, Pubmaster is also interested in the 732 pubs at Avebury Taverns being sold by CSFB.