England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland’s rugby union sides set out on the first of what will now become annual summer tours of the southern hemisphere.
Sky Sports will have exclusive coverage of England’s three test matches against South Africa, Wales’ tour of Australia, Ireland’s daunting three-test series versus New Zealand, plus Scotland’s single test match against the Wallabies.
A packed summer of international rugby begins with Scotland’s single test against Australia on June 5.
The last time these two countries met in the autumn internationals of 2009, Scotland ended a 27-year losing streak with a hard-fought 9-8 victory following an awesome defensive display that frustrated the Wallabies at Murrayfield.
Then three consecutive Saturdays of live international rugby on Sky Sports begins on June 9, featuring New Zealand v Ireland, Australia v Wales and South Africa v England, all facing each other in three-test series.
A special edition of The Rugby Club on June 7 sets the scene for the month ahead, with guests including Ireland’s Shane Horgan and Wales centre Jamie Roberts joining Alex Payne in the Sky Sports studio.
Fresh from their battle with the Barbarians at Twickenham, England will embark on their very first three-Test tour of South Africa.
Newly-appointed coach Stuart Lancaster has named 13 uncapped players in his 42-man squad as he looks to put his own stamp on the national set-up.
After restoring some of England’s pride at the Six Nations following their dismal performance at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Lancaster was appointed head coach of the national team on a permanent basis in March.
They will be facing a fresh South African outfit however, as the Springboks haven’t played a competitive international since their World Cup quarter-final loss to Australia in October 2011.
England have lost their last seven games against the Springboks and will be relying on their backs to pierce the South African rearguard. In their last four meetings, England have scored just 23 points.
Among the new recruits to the England line-up is the surprising inclusion of Tom Youngs, brother of Ben.
The Leicester player will be one of four hookers in the squad, despite having never started an Aviva Premiership match in that position.
In addition to the three test matches, Sky Sports will screen England’s two tour matches against South Africa Barbarians North and South teams.
Six Nations Grand Slam-winners Wales head to Australia, and given their current form they will go into the series full of confidence.
The Welsh will be intent on carrying their European dominance onto the global stage.
If they can achieve just that, Wales will end a 25-year wait for win against the Wallabies in the southern hemisphere.
The Welsh last faced Australia in the World Cup third-place play-off match, after being cruelly denied a place in the final itself after defeat to France.
Little sympathy was shown by the Aussies in the third-place match, who ran out 21-18 victors.
The test series may also provide an opportunity for Warren Gatland to assess the Wallabies, with rumours circulating that he will coach the British and Irish Lions on their tour of Australia in 2013.
Finally, Ireland meet New Zealand in their maiden three-Test series against the world champions.
As well as having the home advantage, the All Blacks will no doubt be buoyed by the fact that the first game on June 9 will be played at Auckland’s Eden Park, the site of their Rugby World Cup triumph last autumn.
Ireland are unlikely to be fazed, though. They too have fond World Cup memories of Eden Park after their 15-6 group stage win over Australia.
Their top scorer that day was Jonathan Sexton and the Leinster fly-half has been in scintillating form of late, scoring 88 points in seven Heineken Cup games.
The home nations tours in the southern hemisphere are part of a huge summer of rugby union on Sky Sports, which also includes extensive coverage of the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa.
In July the new Rugby Championship (formerly Tri-Nations) begins, with Argentina joining New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in the southern hemisphere’s premier international rugby competition, and Sky Sports will screen every match live.
Sky Sports’ coverage of the home nations summer tour matches will be presented by Alex Payne and James Gemmell, with studio analysis coming from Michael Lynagh, Will Greenwood, Dewi Morris, Dean Ryan, Paul Wallace.
Commentary on England’s test series against the Springboks comes from Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes, while Mark Robson and Ieuan Evans will call all three of Wales’ test matches in Australia.
Johnnie Hammond and Alan Quinlan will describe the New Zealand v Ireland test series.
Every match will be broadcast in stunning high-definition on Sky Sports HD, and will be available to view on mobile and tablet devices via Sky Go.
UPDATE: Scotland’s tour match against Fiji will be shown live on ESPN. Details below.
Tuesday 5th June Australia 6-9 Scotland - Only Test | Kick-off: 10.30am Hunter Stadium, Newcastle LIVE – 10am-12.30pm – Sky Sports 1 Thursday 7th June The Rugby Club – Summer Tours Preview 7pm-8pm – Sky Sports 2 Saturday 9th June New Zealand 42-10 Ireland - 1st Test | Kick-off: 8.35am Eden Park, Auckland LIVE – 8am-10.30am – Sky Sports 2 Australia 27-19 Wales - 1st Test | Kick-off: 11.05am Lang Park, Brisbane LIVE – 10.30am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 2 South Africa 22-17 England - 1st Test | Kick-off: 4pm Kings Park Stadium, Durban LIVE – 3.30pm-6.30pm – Sky Sports 2 Wednesday 13th June SA Barbarians South 26-54 England - Tour Match | Kick-off: 2pm ABSA Park, Kimberley LIVE – 1.30pm-4pm – Sky Sports 1 Saturday 16th June Fiji 25-37 Scotland - Only Test | Kick-off: 3am Churchhill Park, Lautoka LIVE – 3am-5am – ESPN New Zealand 22-19 Ireland - 2nd Test | Kick-off: 8.35am Rugby League Park, Christchurch LIVE – 8am-10.30am – Sky Sports 2 Australia 25-23 Wales - 2nd Test | Kick-off: 11.05am Docklands Stadium, Melbourne LIVE – 10.30am-1.30pm – Sky Sports 2 South Africa 36-27 England - 2nd Test | Kick-off: 4pm Ellis Park, Johannesburg LIVE – 3.30pm-6.30pm – Sky Sports 2 Tuesday 19th June SA Barbarians North 31-57 England - Tour Match | Kick-off: 6.10pm Olen Park, Potchefstroom LIVE – 6pm-8.30pm – Sky Sports 2 Saturday 23rd June Australia 20-19 Wales – 3rd Test | Kick-off: 6am Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney LIVE – 5.30am-8.30am – Sky Sports 1 New Zealand 60-0 Ireland – 3rd Test | Kick-off: 8.30am Waikato Stadium, Hamilton LIVE – 8am-11am – Sky Sports 1 South Africa 14-14 England - 3rd Test | Kick-off: 4pm Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth LIVE – 3.30pm-6.30pm – Sky Sports 1 . .