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BBC inks five-year deal for Celtic rugby internationals

LONDON - The BBC has agreed a new five-year deal with the Celtic rugby unions, giving it exclusive rights to show their autumn international matches from 2005-2009.

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The live broadcast deal, with the Irish Rugby Football Union, Scottish Rugby Union and Welsh Rugby Union, includes: all home rugby internationals for Wales, Scotland and Ireland; all matches against regional sides during the autumn international period; live Celtic Cup rights for BBC Scotland and highlights for BBC Northern Ireland, with the Cup Final being shown on network television in Grandstand. BBC Wales already has a separate contract for the Celtic games.

High-profile games in the autumn schedule include Scotland v Australia, Wales v the All Blacks, and Ireland v South Africa in November and the Barbarians vs the All Blacks in December. The BBC has rights to show highlights of England internationals, with the live right being held by BSkyB.

The win follows the BBC securing the Six Nations Championship in February. The BBC now has all international rugby hosted in the UK until the end of the decade, with the exception of the England autumn tests. Earlier in the year, it secured the Rugby League Challenge Cup and Tri Nations highlights until the end of the year.

Pat Younge, BBC Sport's head of programmes and planning, said: "This is great news for fans, for rugby and for the BBC, and reflects the strength of our relationship with the Celtic unions.

"The new touring schedule will see more internationals against the Springboks, Wallabies and All Blacks, the UK debut for the Pacific Islanders, and the mouth-watering possibility of seeing provinces like Munster once again taking on the All Blacks."

The SRU chief executive Phil Anderton said: "Viewing figures for rugby in Scotland on the BBC have seen a significant rise in recent years and we are confident that this trend will continue with the new deal."

The BBC lost the rights to the Oxford and Cambridge boat race to ITV at the beginning of the year, but since then has secured the rights to a raft of other sports such as Wimbledon, Moto GP and UK athletics, all to the end of the decade. Other highlights include: Premiership rights for 'Match of the Day' until 2007; the US Masters, also until 2007; and the winter and summer Olympic games for 2010 and 2012.

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