Rugby Union: ITV in aggressive bid for Five Nations: Channel wars warning as BBC's hold on domestic coverage comes under threat

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The Independent Online
THE BBC was yesterday left in no doubt about Independent Television's designs on domestic rugby union. At the announcement in London of a pounds 2m investment in a summer tours package, ITV revealed that it will be making an aggressive bid next Wednesday, when negotiations between the four home unions and the broadcasting companies begin.

Bob Burrows, controller of the network's sport, stated there will be a 'huge commitment from ITV'. Having achieved the biggest viewing figure for an international when over 15 million tuned in for the 1991 World Cup final between England and Australia at Twickenham, Burrows said: 'The odds were against us when the last contract came up, but we feel rugby will be safe in our hands.'

The fact that ITV made a success of the last World Cup and has won the right to screen the 1995 competiton in South Africa adds strength to its new bid, Burrows felt. In addition, ITV can point to its coverage of the World Cup Sevens and last summer's Lions tour of New Zealand.

Burrows added that ITV would be keen on staggered kick-off times in the Five Nations' Championship.

As for this summer, the ITV package covers England in South Africa, Scotland in Argentina, Ireland's trip to Australia and the Welsh World Cup qualifying campaign and tour of Canada and the South Seas. In England's case, viewers can anticipate live transmission of every match, including the two Tests in June.

The winner of the domestic contract, which will run for a minimum of three years, is expected to be announced at the end of next month. BSkyB was yesterday still denying any interest in the proceedings.