CHRIS FOY: Sky calamity on the cards if Six Nations leaves BBC and ITV

CHRIS FOY: Sky calamity on the cards if Six Nations leaves BBC and ITV… while Sale Sharks captain Jono Ross is set to be Premiership Player of the Year

  • Sky Sports are winning race for Six Nations broadcast rights from 2022
  • Seismic move would mean less eyeballs on international test rugby 
  • Meanwhile, Justin Tipuric deserves credit for deciding to stay at Ospreys 
  • And Sale skipper Jono Ross stands apart as his club continue title charge 

Sky Sports are reportedly leading the race for broadcast rights to the Six Nations from 2022. Prepare for rugby to become a low-profile, niche sport — with shiny new, under-used facilities.

There is a sense of inevitability about this wholesale drift towards pay TV and online subscription services.

The Rugby Paper revealed that Sky are poised to capitalise as the BBC and ITV are not allowed to join forces to keep the annual championship on terrestrial channels. If that is the case, the sport’s shop window could be closing very soon. It is unlikely to re-open.

Sky are leading the way for broadcast rights to the Six Nations from 2022 onwards

This is such a familiar debate and dilemma in this country and worldwide — short-term investment versus the long-term benefits of mass exposure.

Well, this column cannot fathom the benefit of funding for new posts and balls, community coaches and clubhouse refurbs if the next generation do not see the game, acquire heroes and strive to emulate them.

The home unions and their global counterparts must think carefully about every step they take at this critical juncture.

In this part of the world, the Six Nations brings rugby to wider prominence. Audience figures of up to 10 million suggest a vast, enduring appetite for the tournament. The game must work hard to sustain that appeal.

Wales won last year’s Six Nations, and their win against England attracted 8.9m viewers

With CVC securing commercial rights left, right and centre, there will be seismic upheaval ahead.

The Six Nations will go to pay TV or an online subscription service. If it isn’t the next deal, it will be the one after. Public awareness will decline. In time, England could win a Grand Slam and the players will go unrecognised in the street.

Rugby will be given a make-over involving daft kick-off times to suit distant markets.

Perhaps the accountants will decide that a franchise system works best, so certain clubs may be moved lock, stock and barrel to wealthier towns or cities. 

They might also decide that nations without commercial clout should not be included in marquee competitions, even the World Cup.

This code is in danger of selling its soul.

Justin Tipuric is a proper local hero. The Wales flanker could have accepted a lucrative offer to move to France or England but instead he has signed for three more years at the Ospreys, after a decade of sterling service to his home region.

Wales flanker Justin Tipuric has committed his club future to Ospreys despite other offers 

Tipuric is a remarkable talent, but there is nothing flash about him except how he plays. He is a low-key legend. 

Now the Ospreys have Toby Booth taking charge in the summer and another of their talismans — along with Alun Wyn Jones — committing to the revival mission, don’t bet against it succeeding. 

The people of Swansea and the surrounding area should be flocking to watch Tipuric. They are lucky to have him.

Rugby is going the way of football in many respects — not least the stampede to blame officials for defeats — so congratulations to Rob Baxter for his good grace in the aftermath of Exeter’s agonising loss to Harlequins at the Stoop. 

Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter showed good grace after the Harlequins defeat

Young referee Christophe Ridley awarded a penalty try to the home side which was swiftly condemned by good judges as a travesty. 

Baxter expressed measured frustration about the decisive, dubious interpretation of the injury-time scrum, but he did not brandish that as an excuse. He highlighted his side’s shortcomings, too. 

How refreshing. How civilised. It will never catch on.

Sale’s 23-17 victory at Gloucester on Friday night proved that they are now bona fide Premiership title contenders. Not so long ago, they used to lose away games like that. 

The Sharks would build up a lead but didn’t seem to have the conviction to finish the job. However, their success at Kingsholm came just a month after beating Exeter in Devon, so they appear to have acquired the mental resilience needed to win the league. 

Sale Sharks captain Jono Ross could well be Premiership Player of the Year for his displays

Sale have been galvanised by their band of brothers — the Curry twins in the back row, the three Du Preezs from Durban and local siblings Luke and Sam James. But one man stands apart. 

Captain Jono Ross delivers freakish consistency and influence for the Cheshire club, operating at blindside flanker or No 8. If their charge continues, he will surely be Premiership Player of the Year.

The RFU have confirmed that England’s autumn international campaign will feature a match against Tonga at Twickenham, which means the union now have months to come up with a fair revenue-share offer to their impoverished Pacific island opponents. 

They will say it is not up to them to provide such financial aid, but there is an obligation of sorts. 

The RFU confirmed that England will play Tonga at Twickenham in the autumn

Test rugby is supposed to function on the basis of reciprocity — home and away games between rival countries, so that all of them receive vital funds. But England and most of the wealthier nations don’t tour the south Pacific. 

So when Tonga, Fiji and Samoa help them sell out their vast stadiums and earn colossal match-day profit, they should hand over a slice of that profit. 

Even if the RFU simply refuse to consider the greater good, World Rugby should be able to enforce the system, so that England and others visit these rugby hotbeds — or at least pay for the right to keep avoiding them.


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