RUGBY UNION: ITV give World Cup precedence over `Street'

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The Independent Online

Anyone who doubts the rugby union World Cup's status as an event of international significance should now think again. The Rover's Return is being made to change its once-inviolate opening hours when the tournament comes to our screens in May and June.

Yesterday Independent Television announced that Coronation Street, another event of major significance, would be rescheduled to accommodate live coverage from South Africa. For rugby this is an accolade; for Street aficionados an insult.

Mind you, even those who love rugby dearly may find themselves sated by the time the World Cup coverage - 65 hours on air, 22 of the 32 matches live plus extensive highlights, previews and reviews - concludes on 25 June, the day after the final.

So imagine how those who do not love rugby, and more especially those who love the Street, are going to feel. Like it or not, Bet, Ken, Gail, Reg and 12 million others will find themselves deferred until later in the evening. "ITV really can't make a bigger statement of their commitment to Rugby World Cup than that," Trevor East, head of sport, said yesterday.

The company is investing more than £8m in its coverage of the tournament, which kicks off with South Africa v Australia, the holders, in Cape Town on 25 May. And for telerugby-addicts there are three days - 27 and 31 May and 4 June - on which the schedules are being more or less cleared to bring British couch potatoes three live consecutive matches.

The mobile telephone company Cellnet will pay each of the 26 members of the England World Cup squad £4,000 for personal appearances and the like during the tournament in a deal announced yesterday. The players' "non-rugby-related" earnings will be about £10,000 for this season and with a good showing in South Africa may rise to as much as £15,000 each next season.

n The Welsh Rugby Union general committee meet tonight in Cardiff to decide on who will coach Wales at the World Cup, with the Australian Alex Evans of Cardiff and Mike Ruddock of Swansea - a Welshman - the strong favourites.

n Mark Taylor, the Pontypool and Wales centre, is set to join Swansea, ending speculation that he was to join Harlequins.