Rugby Union: BBC buys European Cup ties

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BBC Television last night signed a contract to cover the knockout stages of this season's Heineken European Cup.

The BBC have agreed to provide nationwide coverage, starting with a Rugby Special highlights programme featuring all four quarter-finals on Sunday, 17 November. Grandstand will screen live coverage of the final - confirmed for Saturday, 25 January - while semi-final arrangements are to be announced later this month.

Financial details have not been disclosed, but the BBC's decision has delighted tournament organisers frustrated at the lack of progress since ITV withdrew lucrative cash backing a month ago.

European Rugby Cup Limited chairman Tom Kiernan said: "The pool matches played to date have had a major impact on the European rugby scene. ERC's board of directors are delighted that the BBC deal now gives rugby fans in England the chance to see some outstanding matches."

Viewers in Wales, Ireland and France have already enjoyed live games thanks to independent contracts struck before the 20-team competition kicked off. That arrangement will continue.

On Saturday week Leicester play Harlequins, Cardiff entertain Bath and the French sides Dax and Toulouse meet each other. The following day Llanelli visit Brive.

Saracens have called off tomorrow's visit to Courage League One leaders Harlequins and Bristol have likewise postponed their home game with Leicester, after being asked by the Rugby Football Union to release their Irish international players.

Northampton, however, have decided not to postpone their 8,000 sell-out game with Bath, even though they will be without four internationals.

Epruc, who represent the leading clubs, described the situation as a "totally unacceptable state of affairs which has serious commercial implications for the clubs concerned".

Bristol's Paul Burke and David Corkery, plus the Saracens trio Paddy Johns, Paul and Richard Wallace, are required for an Irish training camp leading up to next Tuesday's Test against Western Samoa at Lansdowne Road in which Va'aiga Tuigamala will resume his international union career after a three-year break.

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