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NBC Sports Group acquires exclusive U.S. media rights to Rugby World Cup

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STAMFORD, Conn., & DUBLIN, Ireland — NBC Sports Group has acquired the exclusive U.S. media rights to the Rugby World Cup through a seven-year partnership with World Rugby, both parties announced today. The agreement includes media rights on all platforms and in all languages to the Rugby World Cups in 2019 and 2023; the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 and 2021; the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018 and 2022; and the annual World Rugby U20 Championships from 2017-2023.

“This agreement is the culmination of years of cultivating our rugby portfolio. It began with U.S. collegiate rugby clubs and now, through this unprecedented agreement, includes the greatest tournaments, teams, players and coaches in the world,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports Group. “Whether it is men’s or women’s, sevens or 15s, pros or amateurs, rugby fans can rest assured that they will have more access to more premier rugby content than has ever been possible in the U.S.”

“The USA is one of the fastest-growing markets for rugby participation and fan growth,” said World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont. “This exciting and unprecedented deal with one of the world’s most prestigious broadcasters will ensure that more people than ever before in the USA will be able to access the world’s top men’s and women’s fifteens and sevens events. NBC will be the destination for rugby in the USA.”

“This deal represents a significant uplift on previous deals in the US, reflecting the ever-increasing stature of rugby within what is arguably the most competitive commercial marketplace for sport,” added World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. “This all-encompassing deal with our friends at NBC is great for fans and great for rugby as we look towards San Francisco’s hosting of Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.”

The agreement begins this spring with the World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 from Georgia, and continues this August with the Women’s Rugby World Cup from Ireland. San Francisco, Calif., will host the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July of 2018, while Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Sites beyond 2019 have yet to be determined. Following is a year-by-year breakdown of the events included in the agreement:

  • 2017: Women’s Rugby World Cup (Ireland); World Rugby U20 Championship (Georgia)
  • 2018: Rugby World Cup Sevens (San Francisco, Calif.); World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2019: Rugby World Cup (Japan); World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2020: World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2021: Women’s Rugby World Cup; World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2022: Rugby World Cup Sevens; World Rugby U20 Championship
  • 2023: Rugby World Cup; World Rugby U20 Championship

NBC Sports anticipates utilizing NBC, NBCSN, The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app, NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports’ direct-to-consumer product — and possibly other platforms to provide more comprehensive U.S. coverage of the numerous events included in the agreement than ever before.

All rugby sevens events will be presented by the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, part of a comprehensive content and distribution partnership formed in 2016 by the IOC, USOC, and NBCUniversal. The centerpiece of the partnership is a U.S. linear cable channel, which will launch this summer. Rugby sevens debuted as an Olympic sport during Rio 2016.

NBC Sports Group’s multi-year agreement with World Rugby enhances its already robust slate of rugby programming, which includes exclusive Olympic rugby coverage through 2032, Premiership Rugby, the Rugby Sevens World Series, the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, and the Penn Mutual Varsity Cup. NBC Sports Group has also provided coverage of the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups, and exhibition matches in conjunction with USA Rugby that feature the USA Eagles, New Zealand All Blacks, and Qantas Wallabies.

 

Guinness Six Nations: Wales equals wins record after Italy scare in Rome

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ROME (AP) — Wales equaled its all-time record for consecutive wins after overcoming a plucky Italy 26-15 in Six Nations rugby on Saturday.

Italy scored the only try of the first half to trail by 12-7 at halftime. Wales didn’t score a try until the 53rd minute and finished with only two. Italy scored a second try, too, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Wales from an 11th successive victory, tying the Welsh record set 109 years ago.

Italy extended its own record streak with a 19th straight defeat in the Six Nations since 2015. The 99-year-old tournament record became theirs outright last weekend in Edinburgh.

Wales’ winning streak started against Italy in the 2018 Six Nations.

Coach Warren Gatland made 11 changes after the fortuitous win over France in Paris last weekend, trying to build experience in a Rugby World Cup year.

That Wales finished with its least points and tries in Rome in six years didn’t worry Gatland, who was far more satisfied with starting the championship with two wins away from home before returning to Cardiff to face title rival England in two weeks.

But he warned, “If we play like that against England it could be embarrassing.”

Stand-in captain Jonathan Davies was frustrated.

“I can’t fault the boys’ effort,” he said. “That accuracy in the final quarter was probably what we lacked. But we came to a difficult place to play rugby and got the result. Italy made things tough for us.”

But a comfortable win at Stadio Olimpico was on the cards as Dan Biggar kicked Wales to a 12-point lead in the first half hour.

Then Italy struck from an attacking lineout as Dean Budd and captain Sergio Parisse surged. Sebastian Negri and David Sisi helped in getting flanker Braam Steyn over the line, and the game descended into the tight contest the Welsh feared.

Tommaso Allan converted Steyn’s try but hit the post with a penalty just before halftime. He nailed a penalty after the break to cut the deficit to two.

Wales sent on regular captain Alun Wyn Jones and finally hit back and pulled away with converted tries by Josh Adams and Owen Watkin to make the result safe with 10 minutes to go.

Italy coach Conor O’Shea rued what he believed to be a missed opportunity.

“We were very close in points for 50 minutes where we were fully in the match,” O’Shea said. “We had an opportunity in the second half but the energy at that time went in their favor.”

Wales flew down the right touch then attacked down the left, where fullback Liam Williams drew the last man to send Adams into the corner for their first try.

Wales thought it scored another 10 minutes later, but Jonathan Davies was adjudged by the TMO to have knocked on.

The second try came from a delicate chip by replacement flyhalf Gareth Anscombe for Watkin to pounce on.

Italy made the scoreline more respectable when Allan exploited a gap and teed up Edoardo Padovani into the right corner.

Right at the end, Wales flanker Thomas Young was denied a try on debut when a forward pass was caught in the buildup.

Italy already looks consigned to a fourth consecutive wooden spoon. Defending champion Ireland arrives in two weeks. But Steyn, who was a standout for Italy, believes any home match is winnable.

“The hardest challenges,” Steyn added, “are the best.”

Guinness Six Nations: England switch from underdog to favorite against France

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Praise can make you weak. Eddie Jones threw that comment at Ireland last week as a warning about living up to expectations.

Those expectations were then shattered by Jones’ England side as they smashed the Irish in Dublin to kick off the Six Nations.

Naturally, praise has been showered on England for producing its best rugby performance since 2012 when it thrashed New Zealand 38-21 at Twickenham.

Having been hailed far and wide for the remarkable all-round triumph, its England’s turn to cope with all of the pats on the back, to switch from underdog to favorite before France turns up on Sunday at Twickenham.

“By Sunday we’ll be at our best,” Jones promises.

To prove all the praise has had no effect won’t be easy, especially when England isn’t in hostile territory but back in the cozy comforts of home. Its victory has enlarged the target on its back, with four rounds to go.

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” hooker Jamie George says. “We must realize that we can’t just rest on that win, believing that because we’ve produced one good performance we’ll be winning the World Cup. We need to build on this.”

The good news — and bad news — is the next opponent is France.

France should have sunk Wales last week in the rain in Paris, but Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez missed 13 points off the tee, and Yoann Huget and Sebastian Vahaamahina gave away two converted tries. Wales, without really firing a shot, won by five points.

Instead of just replacing injured backs Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard, and prop Uini Atonio, and showing some faith, coach Jacques Brunel has prolonged the turmoil the team can’t escape by tearing it apart and asking new combinations to hit the ground running in a stadium where France hasn’t won in 12 years.

He’s brought Geoffrey Daymourou and Mathieu Bastareaud into the centers, apparently to counter the considerable threat of Manu Tuilagi. They are the only survivors of the backline which beat England last year in Paris. But two more centers are on the wings in Gael Fickou and Damian Penaud. Meanwhile, Huget has been moved to fullback, where the wing hasn’t started for France in almost six years.

Center Romain Ntamack and lock Paul Willemse, who made their debuts against Wales, have been demoted to the reserves.

The French pack was huge and surprisingly mobile against Wales but flanker Yacouba Camara has been given his first cap since the 2018 Six Nations, and lock Felix Lambey and tighthead prop Demba Bamba will make their first starts. Bamba will be marking Mako Vunipola. Of Bamba, Brunel says, “He’s come up against a few good players.” But not Vunipola, who almost subdued the Ireland pack on his own.

If any rescuing is required, France’s reserves offer 25 caps of experience in total. Toulouse prop Dorian Aldegheri and fullback Thomas Ramos are uncapped, and four others have one cap each. Brunel says, “I expect them to bring their enthusiasm late in the game.”

England winger Chris Ashton, who has lost twice to France and never scored against them, expects the Tricolors to be desperate after blowing the Wales game.

“It will be an angry French team,” he says. “They love a reaction.”

Ashton set the Top 14 try-scoring record in his lone season with Toulon in 2016-17, and believes the Top 14 doesn’t prepare the French for test rugby.

“The Top 14 is a slow stop-start game. It’s not anywhere near (test level),” he says. “Maybe that step up shocks them in that first couple of games, but they will get up to speed very quickly.”

If praise can make you weak, then criticism can make you strong. Ashton better hope “very quickly” isn’t on Sunday.