BBC and Sky agree on new deal for the season

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The Independent Online

Sky Television has won the broadcasting rights to England's home internationals (excluding the Six Nations matches) for a further three years after the present deal expires at the end of the next international season.

The BBC claimed the runners-up spot by securing the secondary broadcasting rights after the representatives of the two television companies had thrashed out a deal with the Rugby Football Union and Premier Rugby.

The contract is a two-tier affair. Sky's live coverage of club games begins from the start of the new season. England's internationals, which include their autumn Tests and their home World Cup warm-up games, kicks into action at the start of the following season, running to the end of the 2004-2005 term.

"We are delighted to have reached agreement with Sky and the BBC on a greatly extended package of TV coverage for England Rugby in all its forms," said RFU chief executive Francis Baron. "Sky have been a great partner for us and we are delighted this association is continuing."

The BBC's secondary broadcasting rights means they will be able to screen England's games in full from 5.15 on match afternoons, but they will be able to screen two quarter-finals and one semi-final of the Zurich Championship play-offs live – Sky will show the other two quarters, semi and the final.

The corporation now intends to resurrect Rugby Special, its magazine programme, which was dumped when they lost out to Sky in the original deal which was agreed four years ago.

Peter Salmon, BBC Sport Director, said: "In agreeing this deal with the BBC, the RFU has recognised that BBC Sport not only brings sport to audiences, but audiences to sport – on average, one game of club rugby on Grandstand attracts an audience 18 times bigger than a club rugby match on satellite."

Baron added: "We are delighted to have the BBC back as a TV partner with their massive stature in sport around the world. Under these new agreements we have, in addition to achieving extended coverage of our international matches and the Zurich Premiership, secured live coverage of England 'A' and U21 matches, women's rugby and have doubled the number of rugby magazine programmes.

"We have also secured for the first time TV coverage in highlight form of England National First Division matches. For the 'grass roots' game we have secured a package of BBC commitments to assist and a Sky commitment to continue assistance to rugby clubs throughout the country in receiving Sky Sports services."

Meanwhile Wigan owner Dave Whelan yesterday purchased Rugby Union National League Two club Orrell for £500,000, fuelling speculation that the Rugby League giants are preparing to move in on the 15-man code.