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Lions rugby returns to terrestrial television for first time in 28 years

·3-min read
Lions rugby set to be broadcast on terrestrial television for the first time in 28 years - Anton Want /Getty Images
Lions rugby set to be broadcast on terrestrial television for the first time in 28 years - Anton Want /Getty Images

Channel 4 have confirmed the return of live coverage of a British and Irish Lions match on terrestrial television for the first time in 28 years. The broadcaster has completed a deal to show the Lions’ warm-up match against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 as well as highlights packages for all three Tests against South Africa.

Highlights of the five tour matches in South Africa will also be shown on All4, the first time Lions action will be shown on terrestrial television since 1993, when ITV broadcast the tour of New Zealand.

Telegraph Sport revealed in February that Channel 4 was in talks with the Lions about showing a highlights package of every game and the coverage is expected to attract huge audiences.

Sky Sports, who will broadcast all eight scheduled tour matches live, have held the broadcast rights since the 1997 tour of South Africa but were not thought to be interested in broadcasting the Japan game.

The Channel 4 productions will be presented by Lee McKenzie and represent a further expansion of the broadcaster’s rugby portfolio which includes live coverage of the Heineken Champions Cup final between La Rochelle and Toulouse on May 22 and live coverage of Ireland’s autumn Internationals against the All Blacks, Argentina and another country, yet to be confirmed.

Channel 4 Sport earlier this year brought free-to-air live Test cricket back to television screens after a 16-year break with its coverage of England’s our in India.

“This is set to be a mouth-watering contest with Alun Wyn Jones leading the Lions against the reigning World Champions,” said Channel 4’s head of sport Pete Andrews.

“It’s fantastic news for rugby fans who will relish the opportunity of seeing the British & Irish Lions in action on free-to-air television.”

Ben Calveley, the managing director of the Lions said: “We are delighted that Channel 4 are our broadcast partners for our first match on home soil since 2005.

“I am looking forward to the excellent coverage and analysis that Channel 4 will no doubt provide and going on the recent squad announcement I’m sure the interest and numbers tuning in will be considerable for this clash.”

Channel 4's sports expansion explained

by Rob Bagchi

After years of neglect following the loss of rights to show home Test matches in 2005 and the ending of its deal for live Italian football three years earlier, Channel 4 announced its return to groundbreaking sports broadcasting with its award-winning coverage of the 2012 London Paralympics.

Having built on that success, it commissioned even more hours of live action for Rio 2016 and was rewarded with record audiences, earning it the rights for Tokyo and Paris in 2024.

Racing was the mainstay of the channel's sporting coverage from 1982-2017, bolstering its early esoteric menu of Kabbadi, Trans World Sport and American football, but since the sport moved to ITV, C4 has broadened its offering, sealing an agreement with Sky to show the British Grand Prix live plus highlights of every other round of the world championship presented by Steve Jones and David Coulthard, and tied up the W Series, the women's motor racing championship, in 2019.

Test cricket made its exclusive return to C4 earlier this month after partnering with Sky to show England's victory in the 2019 World Cup final on terrestrial television. The channel also won the rights to show Tests from England's tour of India after its head of sport, Pete Andrews, outbid both Sky and BT Sport.

The package of Lions tour highlights represents a burgeoning commitment to its relationship with rugby. Since 2018 Lee McKenzie has led its Heineken Cup rugby programming for the live match per round C4 transmits and she was back in front of the mic last November when its alliance with Amazon Prime gave the channel live free-to-air rights for Ireland v Wales and England v Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup.

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