Europe’s Rugby Union giants engage for 2023 Six Nations kick-off in Cardiff

Captains line up: France’s Antoine Dupont, holding the trophy, was player of the Six Nations tournament last year

Wales will host Ireland in the first match of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations rugby on Saturday afternoon (4 February), as head coach Warren Gatland returns to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

England and Scotland will play for the Calcutta Cup in Round 1, reigniting rugby’s oldest rivalry at Twickenham later on Saturday afternoon. The match will mark Steve Borthwick’s first as England head coach. On Sunday Italy face the challenge of hosting champions France at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Les Bleus won the Grand Slam in 2022.

The Six Nations, arguably the biggest national tournament in rugby bar the World Cup, reaches its conclusion on ‘Super Saturday’, 18 March, when all three fixtures kick off on the same day, one after another.

The 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship remains in its own dedicated window in the calendar in March and April. The fixture list will conclude with Super Saturday on 29 April as England host France followed by Italy v Wales and Scotland v Ireland. In the UK, all 15 matches will be broadcast on the BBC across network, BBC Nations and iPlayer. In Ireland RTÉ and Virgin Media will continue their live coverage of the whole championship, while France TV and Sky Italia will broadcast all 15 matches in France and Italy respectively.

The 2022 Women’s Six Nations saw the arrival of TikTok as the first ever title partner of the competition. The partnership resulted in strong growth and engagement on the entertainment platform throughout the championship, including over 174 million video views. It was a bumper year with match attendance records broken each week, a 62% increase on 2019 crowds (pre-COVID) and TV viewing figures up 64%.

The England team celebrate the Six Nations Grand Slam 2022 away to France in Bayonne

Smart Ball could herald new play-review era

A new collaboration between data analytics company Sportable and Six Nations Official Insights Partner Sage is centred around unlocking deep performance and fan engagement insights from the Gilbert Sportable Smart Rugby Ball – which communicates with wireless beacons around the pitch – across all 2023 Guinness Six Nations and TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship matches.

Augmented reality graphics will be powered by on-screen real-time match stats such as kick distance, pass distance and territory gained and presented across broadcast and Six Nations digital channels.

After a successful introduction of the Smart Rugby Ball at the highest level in rugby union over the summer, this collaboration represents a step forward for Six Nations as it continues to be at the forefront of innovation.

The Smart Rugby Ball has been developed and refined by Gilbert and Sportable over the past five years and through this collaboration will be used by 14 different nations in over 100 test matches, opening up opportunities to understand the game for broadcasters, coaching and analytics, players and fans.

Richard Gray from Gilbert said: “We are confident the real-time data from the ball that the Sportable system will deliver to the game in the years to come are exciting and wide-ranging – spanning across opportunities for improvement in performance, broadcasting, commercial and officiating.”

Julie Paterson, director of Rugby at Six Nations Rugby, said: “As a fan-focused organisation, Six Nations Rugby is constantly exploring opportunities to give fans the best possible experience through our championships and events. The partnership with Sportable, and their smart ball technology is testament to this ambition.

“To be able to offer fans real-time data and insight that can help bring to life the game in an innovative way, is going to be incredibly exciting, and everyone involved is looking forward to seeing this translate through our extensive international broadcast coverage.

“For the teams, players and coaches, the opportunity to provide them with a new strand of information offers the potential to support training through to on pitch decision making, which we are incredibly excited to see develop.”

Cath Keers, CMO at Sage, said: “For fans watching, Sage wants to use its role as Official Insights Partner to help bring that new insight to life and enhance their experience, both through broadcast coverage and across social media. Our Sage customers, partners, employees and communities internationally will also benefit from the partnership with access to tickets, experiences and content.”

The new partnership follows Sage’s integration as Official Insights Partner to the Hundred, in cricket, and most recently a new partnership with Major League Baseball.

The insights promised for the 2023 Six Nations – kick distance, pass distance and territory gained – could possibly herald the start of a new era for the tournament and indeed for other sports as well.

The Smart Balls are rechargeable, and are plugged in before each Test

Rugby has led the way in play review technology with the introduction of the Television Match Official (TMO) as far back as 2000 at the match between South Africa and England in Pretoria, reviewing whether a try had been scored, player’s foot in touch and foul play.

The Smart Rugby Ball could in the future add conclusive evidence as to whether the ball has been grounded when a try is scored. It could provide an accurate reading of where the ball has crossed the line following a line-kick by an out-half; a point of annoyance to kickers in all professional rugby as they watch the assistant referee guess as they try to watch the ball going over their shoulder into touch.

It could also tell us if a lineout delivery is straight, and if players are offside or ahead of a kick. Another key area is the forward pass, which remains a subjective judgment by TMO review due to the relative velocity of the pass delivered between two players moving at speed.

Broadcasting plans around the Six Nations

In May 2021 Six Nations Rugby and France Télévisions confirmed an agreement to extend their partnership to cover all Guinness Six Nations and TikTok Women’s Championships matches from 2023 to 2025 inclusive. The national broadcaster has rights to bring fans all 15 Six Nations matches, and all 15 Women’s Six Nations fixtures. Free-to-air broadcaster TV5 Monde will air French-language coverage to overseas audiences.

Commenting on the partnership agreement, Ben Morel, CEO at Six Nations Rugby (who will step down at the end of the tournaments in April to be replaced by former ECB chief executive Tom Harrison), said: “France Télévisions have been an incredible long-standing partner to the Six Nations. I look forward to continuing our successful partnership and bringing our men’s and women’s championships to even greater heights.”

Laurent-Eric Le Lay, director of Sports, France Télévisions, added: “Thanks to this agreement, French fans will be able to continue enjoying the exploits of the French teams for free. Our channels and digital offers will be put into place so that people can enjoy the entirety of these competitions through live coverage, highlights, interviews and reports.”

ITV Sport’s live coverage of the 2023 Men’s Championship kicks off with the Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday 4 February. The channel will show 10 live matches throughout the six weeks of the Six Nations, led by presenters Jill Douglas and Mark Pougatch.

This year’s tournament marks the latest in a deal between ITV and the BBC that sees Six Nations matches shared between both broadcasters on television and online with ITV’s matches aired on ITV1, ITVX, STV and STV Player.

BBC Sport will air at least one game every round on TV and BBC iPlayer, while BBC Sounds, BBC Radio 5 Live or 5 Sports Extra will provide live commentary of every tie. This begins with the opening game between Wales and Ireland on BBC1 and iPlayer tomorrow. Other live games on BBC television include Scotland v Wales (11 February) and the clash between Wales and England (25 February).

Highlights of every match, as well as in-play video clips of BBC matches, will also be available via the BBC Sport website and app, as well as its social media channels. BBC Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will have their own coverage.

BBC lost the rights to broadcast France’s home matches in the men’s Six Nations in 2022, which means that all matches in Paris will be shown on ITV. England matches are shared between the broadcasters, who began sharing rights across the competition in 2016.

Leading ITV’s team will be presenters Mark Pougatch and Jill Douglas, joined by Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio, members of England’s victorious Rugby World Cup 2003 team, along with their coach Sir Clive Woodward, England Women World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi, former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, fellow former Irish skipper Rory Best, former Wales captain Gareth Thomas, Welsh centre Jamie Roberts, former Scotland and Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan, former Scottish international Jim Hamilton, Australia’s most-capped player George Gregan, and former French forward Benjamin Kayser.

Martin Bayfield will combine presenting duties with his role as reporter, alongside reporter Gabriel Clarke. Joining them in the commentary box will be Nick Mullins and Miles Harrison, plus co-commentators Shane Williams, Gordon D’Arcy, Ben Kay, Scott Hastings, David Flatman and Danielle Waterman.

Gabby Logan will front the BBC’s coverage, joined by former rugby union stars such as Martin Johnson, Sam Warburton, John Barclay and Tommy Bowe. Meanwhile, on BBC Sounds, BBC Radio 5 Live and 5 Sports Extra, pundits include World Cup winners Matt Dawson, Katy Daley-McLean and Paul Grayson, Lions captain Sam Warburton, Lions stars Tom Shanklin and Denis Hickie, and former Scotland captain John Barclay.

Andrew Cotter will lead on TV commentary throughout the tournament and will be joined by co-commentators Jonathan Davies and Chris Paterson. For radio, commentary will be led by BBC’s Rugby Union Correspondent Chris Jones and Sara Orchard.

In addition, Nigel Owens will provide an official’s perspective at key points during games and Sonja McLaughlan and Lee McKenzie will be pitch side for every game. There will also be the returning Rugby Special, hosted by Ugo Monye, with Sara Orchard and Alastair Eykyn’s commentary featuring in the programme and BBC highlights generally.

RTÉ and Virgin Media Television will again share Guinness Six Nations coverage, where the action will be free-to-air for supporters in the Republic of Ireland. Kicking off tonight with the Men’s Under 20s matches in Cardiff, London and Rome, this year’s Six Nations coverage will include all fixtures from Ireland’s Men’s, Women’s and U20 tournaments.

The partnership will see all games equally aired across both broadcasters again this year. The 2023 Men’s Six Nations will open with Ireland v Wales on Virgin Media One, followed by England v Scotland on RTÉ2. Jacqui Hurley and Joe Molloy will respectively host coverage for RTÉ and Virgin Media, with Irish international and Munster player Simon Zebo joining the RTÉ punditry team alongside Jamie Heaslip and Hannah Tyrrell. Rob Kearney and Fiona Hayes will anchor pundit analysis for Virgin Media.

Head of RTÉ Sport, Declan McBennett said: “With this being a great year for rugby, there is added excitement about this year’s Six Nations which RTÉ is once again bringing to sports fans all over the country free-to-air, along with Virgin Media Ireland, as part of our historic partnership which we launched last year. It’s going to be a huge year for Irish rugby and we’re really looking forward to it.”

In June 2021 Six Nations Rugby confirmed a new partnership with Sky Italia for broadcast rights in the Italian market. The Azzurri will be live on Sky Sport and streaming on NOW along with free-to-air coverage on TV8, the digital terrestrial free-to-air general entertainment TV channel owned by Sky Italia through its subsidiary Nuova Societa Televisiva Italiana.

Sky Sports One will host the coverage with Davide Camisoles, Paul Malpezzi, Alexander Moscardi, Francesco Pierantozzi, Fusetti, Andrew de Rossi, Moreno Spring and Italy legend Diego Dominguez providing presentation, commentary and analysis. Italy’s home games at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome will feature 24 cameras including the RobiCam specialty camera shot from above to add perspective to match coverage.

Other broadcasters and streamers around the world taking Six Nations matches are DAZN, NBC Sports Network, SuperSport South Africa, ESPN Sur and ESPN, Movistar, Sport TV, ROMTelecom, Ziggo Sport, go TV. Nova Sport, Viaplay (formerly Premier Sports and Premier Sports Asia), Nordic Entertainment Group (NENT), WOWOW, Stan Sport and More Than Sports.

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