BBC and ITV pay record £460million to keep Six Nations games free

BBC and ITV pay record £460million to keep Six Nations games on free-to-air TV and fend off competition from Sky and Amazon (but Beeb still won’t show England home games)

  • BBC and ITV won joint bid to retain control of the rugby series starting next week
  • But they had to stump up the huge sum amid pressure from Amazon, BT and Sky
  • ITV now holds the rights to show England, Ireland, France and Italy home games
  • BBC will show Wales and Scotland home matches – missing out on Twickenham

The BBC and ITV have been forced to fork out a record £460million to keep the Six Nations on free TV.

The broadcasters won their joint bid to retain control of the blockbuster rugby series starting next month.

But they had to stump up the eye-watering sum amid stiff opposition from Amazon, BT Sport and Sky.

ITV hold the rights to show England, Ireland, France and Italy home games, while the BBC will only play Wales and Scotland home matches.

It means the Corporation has again lost out on the chance to broadcast live from Twickenham.

The broadcasters won their joint bid to retain control of the blockbuster rugby series starting next month. Pictured: Marcus Smith during the Autumn Nations win against South Africa in November

‘Exclusive discussions’ between Six Nations Rugby and the two channels for a multi-year deal were confirmed in May.

But details of the staggering £460million TV deal emerged in The Rugby Paper over the weekend.

The BBC and ITV will reportedly pay around £115million per year for the right to show the next four tournaments.

It marks a huge leap from the reported £90million per year they were paying for the rights from 2016.

The new deal also sent the prize money for the winning team soaring – with the victors set to cash in around £6.5million.

Yet it is understood to still fall far short of the £150million per year Six Nations bosses wanted.

ITV hold the rights to show England, Ireland, France and Italy home games, while the BBC (pictured) will only show Wales and Scotland home matches

ITV will act as the ‘senior partner’ for the tournaments, which is why they hold the rights to more games.

Meanwhile the BBC will show fewer men’s games but will cover the Under-20s and women’s Six Nations.

Free-to-air TV bosses had feared they would lose out in any new contract amid pressure from Amazon, BT Sport and Sky.

Amazon reportedly chucked its hat in the ring last February for the first time following the success of hosting the Autumn Nations Cup.

But BBC chief Tim Davie had pointed out the importance of the tournament to the broadcaster.

He said ’64 per cent of the whole Welsh population’ watched Wales’ thrilling win over England last season.

He continued: ‘There is a limit to our budget but it is utterly critical we protect things like that, because that’s where audiences get value from the BBC.’

Mr Davie added: ‘So, that is of priority importance, that we can bring those big events.’

Six Nations Rugby said in May: ‘Six Nations Rugby today confirmed that it has entered into exclusive discussions with BBC and ITV after an agreement in principle was reached relating to all three Six Nations Championships.

‘Fans will continue to enjoy widespread coverage of rugby’s greatest championships throughout the United Kingdom due to an enhanced agreement between Six Nations Rugby and the two broadcasters, who have worked together since 2016.

‘The agreement has a four-year term starting in 2022 and ending after the 2025 Championships.’

ITV (pictured) will act as the ‘senior partner’ for the tournaments, which is why they hold the rights to more games

Director of BBC Sport Barbara Slater said: ‘For the millions of Six Nations fans across the UK, the Championships remaining free-to-air is wonderful news.

‘We look forward to delivering live action from both the Men’s and Women’s as well as the Men’s Under-20’s Championships to the widest possible audience over the next four seasons.

‘BBC Sport has led the way in increasing the profile of Women’s sports, so we are thrilled to now include the Women’s Six Nations as a permanent fixture on our broadcast calendar.’

ITV Director of Sport Niall Sloane added: ‘ITV is delighted to have reached this agreement, which extends free-to-air coverage of such an important tournament and will ensure it remains centre stage each spring.

‘With the addition of France home games to those of England, Ireland and Italy, we look forward to bringing ITV viewers a wealth of superb rugby from the Six Nations in the coming years.’

CHRIS FOY: Eddie Jones has plenty to think about ahead of England’s Six Nations campaign… with Owen Farrell absent and several spots in the starting XV still up for grabs

  • Monday marks the start of England’s preparations for this year’s Six Nations 
  • Eddie Jones has lots to decide on, including how to replace captain Owen Farrell
  • Meanwhile, the Premiership’s new terrestrial TV deal is good news for the sport
  • Bristol’s demolition of Scarlets on Saturday shows they have found their mojo

England start their Six Nations build-up in Brighton on Monday and Eddie Jones will be aware that filling the void left by Owen Farrell’s absence is far from the only priority matter he must address.

The captain’s injury has re-opened the door to George Ford and it will surely also mean another stand-in leadership stint for Courtney Lawes. Both men deserve these opportunities.

But there is so much else to consider. England are in the midst of a transition phase which means very little is settled and certain.

Eddie Jones has plenty of decisions to make in the lead up to this year’s Six Nations

Any attempt to write down a potential starting XV reveals that there are very few shoo-ins. Maro Itoje is one, Tom Curry is another, as is Kyle Sinckler — for now at least — and Ben Youngs remains the unchallenged No 1 scrum-half. Beyond that, most places are subject to debate. 

Henry Slade is all but assured of a midfield start but his exact role depends on the availability of Farrell and Manu Tuilagi — who is closing in on another comeback.

Freddie Steward appears on the cusp of a long career as England’s pre-eminent full back but he is not yet untouchable — he is still finding his feet at Test level, albeit quickly.

Up front, Joe Marler’s set-piece prowess perhaps gives him a marginal edge over the rampaging Leicester captain, Ellis Genge, for the No 1 shirt but the loosehead prop selection will divide opinion, as will Jamie George versus Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker.

Owen Farrell’s injury means that Courtney Lawes is likely to have another leadership stint

However, the key to England’s short-term fortunes appears to lie in how Jones and his assistants decide to proceed in the back five of the pack. This column would advocate the use of players in their primary habitat, especially in relation to the deployment of Tom Curry.

Jones has called for the Sale flanker to show better consistency if he wants to be truly world class but what would help that process is consistency of role.

Curry was at No 8 in the autumn and has flitted between the flanker berths but openside is his preferred position, so he should become entrenched there, until the next World Cup — with the option to fill in elsewhere only when in-game emergencies require it.

England have enough No 8 talent at their disposal to back one of the specialist contenders and it makes sense for Alex Dombrandt to be given that shot.

His hat-trick against Castres on Friday night continued a spell of fine form when he has led Harlequins with real authority. In tight games, he is fronting up.

Sale Sharks’ Tom Curry was at No 8 in the autumn but open-side is his preferred position

His telepathic club alliance with Marcus Smith could enhance the national team and it feels as if the time has come to find out if he can be a ‘Test match animal’.

With Sam Underhill injured again, it may be best to persist with Lawes at blindside although a switch to lock would help to create a remarkably mobile England pack. Alfie Barbeary has the all-round potential to make a dynamic impact from the bench.

Jones will know that achieving the right balance up front will be essential for a trip to Murrayfield on the opening weekend of the Six Nations.

Scotland have the forward pedigree to eclipse England if the visitors are depowered or disorganised, as was the case at Twickenham last year when the exploits of Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Jonny Gray paved the way for an historic upset.

An ambush awaits in Edinburgh. Jones has 10 days for some hasty problem- solving, before naming a team capable of coping with a highly dangerous assignment. Replacing Farrell is merely one part of a big, unwieldy selection conundrum.

TV DEAL IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION   

News that Premiership matches will be shown on terrestrial TV again is a vital step towards properly promoting the domestic game. The deal with ITV for highlights and live coverage of the final in June is a boost because, let’s be honest, the league has a microscopic profile among the wider public, outside of its traditional heartlands.

New Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor recognised the need to broaden awareness and he should be commended for prioritising this issue.

It is a good start, but there is much to do. It is high time for Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) to build connections and influence constructively and banish a pervading culture of secrecy.

Former WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips became Premiership Rugby chair last year

The game needs good governance more than ever and PRL have often been perceived as being a divisive, aloof faction — in relation to player release for the Lions, the overhaul of European events, handling of salary cap investigations and a pay-for-entry attitude to promotion and expansion. 

These are still early days but maybe the new PRL hierarchy of Massie-Taylor and chairman Martyn Phillips can emerge as figures capable of driving reputational change.

BRISTOL BEARS ARE BACK  

Bristol are back. Whatever was troubling them, the Bears appear to have moved on, in fine style, judging by the manner of their 52-21 victory over the Scarlets in Llanelli.

The way they went through the gears to demolish their Welsh opponents had shades of the All Blacks’ blend of creativity and ruthlessness.

The tone had been set by Ioan Lloyd before he was forced off injured, to earn warm applause from the watching Wayne Pivac 

Five tries in the last 18 minutes was quite some effort by Pat Lam’s men and two of Bristol’s strikes in that period were long-range works of art, full of off-loading brilliance. 

The tone had been set by Ioan Lloyd before he was forced off injured, to earn warm applause from the watching Wayne Pivac. Never mind clapping him, the Wales head coach should pick the electric rookie, who lined up at inside centre and can also operate at 10, on both wings or at full back. 

Granted, this versatility might mean he is not considered a specialist in any one position for now but the 20-year-old has rare attacking talent and is worthy of more Test caps — soon. 

George Ford is recalled by England to replace injured captain Owen Farrell as Eddie Jones’ side prepare for Six Nations campaign

  • Fly-half George Ford has been brought back in by England coach Eddie Jones
  • The 77-cap star was originally left out despite being in good form for Leicester 
  • Owen Farrell suffered a training-ground injury and may miss the Six Nations 

George Ford has been recalled by England to fill the void left by Owen Farrell’s injury setback and will join the national squad for their training camp in Brighton this week.

The 28-year-old Leicester fly-half has been widely heralded as the form No 10 in the country this season but was not picked by Eddie Jones for the autumn Tests at Twickenham.

The head coach also omitted him last week when he named 36 players to prepare for the Six Nations. While there was no place for Ford, uncapped Bath rookie Orlando Bailey was included, along with Marcus Smith — England’s primary playmaker during the successful November campaign.

George Ford has been recalled by England ahead of their upcoming Six Nations campaign

However, there has been a dramatic twist, following the news that captain Farrell has suffered a training-ground injury at Saracens.

With the Test centurion in danger of missing the entire championship after apparently damaging his right ankle, Ford has been handed a chance to revive his international career.

Sportsmail understands the 77-cap veteran has been summoned to the camp in Brighton and his recall is due to be confirmed by the RFU on Monday.

England also need to name a stand-in captain and Courtney Lawes is expected to fill that role, as he did so impressively during autumn victories over Tonga and South Africa.

While Ford’s presence will create competition for Smith, the Quins prodigy remains destined to wear the England No 10 shirt for the Six Nations opener against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday week.

The 77-cap, very experienced fly-half Ford was originally left out by England boss Eddie Jones

Jones had named Farrell as his skipper for the tournament and was keen to resurrect the plan for him to join forces with Smith in a 10-12 alliance. But that vision has been disrupted by an untimely and apparently innocuous incident.

Farrell was on course to make his comeback for Saracens yesterday against London Irish in the European Challenge Cup, having been out of action since mid-November following surgery on his left ankle.

Unfortunately for the 30-year-old a collision in training has resulted in an injury to his other ankle — as revealed by Sportsmail on Saturday.

Explaining the situation, Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall said: ‘It’s not the original injury which was on his left leg. It’s his right ankle, unfortunately, so he is going to see a specialist in the early part of the week and that will determine how long he’s going to be out for.

‘I don’t think he’s going to be available for the Scotland game. He’s obviously hugely, hugely disappointed. It’s cruel. He is not a player who is injured very often.

The decision comes as captain Owen Farrell (pictured) is injured and may miss the tournament

‘It happened at the end of the training session and it was an accident. He stood on someone’s foot and went over on his ankle. We’ll wait and see what the specialist says and see if he can play some part in the Six Nations.

‘He would have played this weekend. He came through quite a hard training session on Wednesday and looked fired-up and ready to go.

‘It happened right at the end when we did some extra back-line plays unopposed. It’s really unfortunate and really cruel for him. But he’s a strong character and I don’t think it will be that long. We’ll see.’

Meanwhile, Jones appears to have absorbed one of the main lessons from last year’s disastrous Six Nations campaign, when England went in with under-cooked players, lost three games and finished fifth.

This time the head coach is seemingly hell-bent on making sure his squad are all ready to hit the ground running.

After Sale thrashed the Ospreys 49-10 yesterday, director of rugby Alex Sanderson revealed flanker Tom Curry may be released by England for the Premiership game against Leicester on Sunday. 

Sanderson said: ‘He’s got more of a shift to put in next week. There’s a chance he might be staying back to get a bit more game-time but it’s between him and Eddie. He hasn’t played a lot in the last couple of weeks.’

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