Sky bid to screen the Five Nations

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The Independent Online
SKY Television has tabled an offer to each of the four home unions for the broadcasting rights to all major matches in the British Isles, including Five Nations internationals, from 1998.

The satellite channel's bid, which has been made individually to the unions and would also cover tour games, European ties and domestic club fixtures, "provides for a number of internationals - including some Five Nations games - to be carried live on terrestrial television. Highlights of all internationals will be offered on terrestrial television".

Sam Chisholm, Sky 's chief executive, said: "We recognise that there will be a need for coverage on terrestrial television as well, and our bid reflects this."

Tony Hallett, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, said the deal could be worth as much as pounds 200m, but, even though Sky would not reveal any details about how much had been offered to the individual unions, it looks as though England's belief that they should receive the biggest slice of the cake has been reflected in the proposal.

After talks along these lines broke down recently, the other three home unions intimated that England might be ejected from the Five Nations. But Hallett said yesterday: "The other countries will see the sense of our argument when they examine the offers. The deal will keep rugby on the screens. It's a good opportunity for the future and also keeps all who want to play rugby under one umbrella."

Clearly hoping that this development will offer a solution to England's argument with their Irish, Welsh and Scottish counterparts on how the Five Nations' television revenue should be divided after the present contract with the BBC runs out at the end of next season, Hallett also claimed that, as a result of the Sky deal, the other unions would have enough money to be able to dissuade their leading players from moving to English clubs.

Club rugby, especially in England, is an integral part of Sky's package which may partly explain why the RFU have proffered the olive branch to their 20 leading clubs. In response to a plea from their representative body, the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, Bill Bishop has been appointed as joint chairman of the RFU's team which is negotiating with them over players' contracts plus the game's future structure and funding. The involvement of the RFU's president should mollify the clubs, but it may not soften the governing body's position.

Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the RFU's executive committee, will still take part even though Epruc threatened to pull out of next season's Courage Championship and Pilkington Cup, largely in protest against his rigid stance. But Bishop said: "There are two sides - the Union and the top clubs - but I'm president of both. We need to sort out next season. We're not creating a blueprint for the next 100 years."

On the field, Cardiff moved to within one point of Heineken League leaders Neath with a 29-19 victory at Newport. Pontypridd stayed in touch with an astonishing 80-12 demolition of Treorchy. Paul John ran in five of the home side's 12 tries and Neil Jenkins supplied 10 conversions.

Wasps secured fourth place in Courage League One with a 34-3 victory at the bottom club West Hartlepool while Bristol won 29- 26 away to Orrell. Each side scored four tries at Edge Hall Road with Orrell's Graeme Smith and Bristol's Tongan wing Dave Tiueti claiming two apiece. Matt Allen ran in a hat-trick of tries as Northampton completed their 100 per cent League Two campaign with a 59-17 victory at London Scottish, but London Irish, who were also promoted, had a much harder struggle before beating visitors Newcastle 29-28.

The Exiles' centre Rob Henderson, scorer of two tries yesterday, is one of two uncapped players named by Ireland - the Ballymena wing James Topping is the other - for the Peace International against the Barbarians at Lansdowne Road on 18 May.

Also in Ireland, Shannon, who had completed their programme, retained the Insurance Corporation League title without playing when Garryowen lost 37-12 at home to Young Munster.

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