Premier Sports has announced a stellar line-up of respected rugby names to join its broadcast team in Wales for an exciting new season of Guinness PRO14 rugby union.
The broadcaster has unveiled eight of the country’s most familiar TV rugby faces to lead their coverage of the Welsh regions competition, including pundits Shane Williams, Martyn Williams and Sean Holley, commentators Eddie Butler and Wyn Gruffydd, and presenters Ross Harries and Lauren Jenkins.
After announcing his retirement from the sport in July, with an illustrious career that includes 74 caps for his country with a record 49 as captain, Sam Warburton will also be joining Premier Sports as a guest for some of the biggest fixtures during the season, including the Welsh Derbies and the season opener between Cardiff Blues and Leinster on Friday, 31 August at Cardiff Arms Park.
The line-up for Wales adds to the already confirmed Northern Ireland team of Andrew Trimble, Mark Robson and Graham Little, with more high profile names to be announced for TV teams in Scotland shortly.
Ross Harries, who previously presented BBC Wales’ PRO14 coverage as well as its flagship Sunday evening Scrum V highlights show, will lead Premier Sports’ coverage of the Welsh regions in the competition this season. He said:
“Over the past seven years, I’ve been privileged to stand pitch side and watch some of the finest players in the world do battle. During that time the Guinness PRO14 as evolved and grown, and it’s no surprise that the Championship now contains both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup winners. Few things inspire as much passion as rugby in Wales, and I can’t wait to be a part of this exciting new chapter in the Championship’s history.”
Eddie Butler, who has been the BBC’s lead rugby union commentator since 2002, will also make the switch to Premier Sports for the new PRO14 season. He said:
“The game moves forward and coverage of the game moves forward. It’s a real thrill to be involved in this new chapter with Premier. The Guinness PRO14 is a true spearhead of the game in Europe and South Africa, never afraid to embrace new challenges, cross new boundaries and put on a show.”
The whole team will be working with Sunset+Vine, one of rugby’s most experienced and creative independent production companies with a track record that includes seven years of Aviva Premiership coverage with both ESPN and for the past four years with BT Sport.
Sunset+Vine’s three year deal will see them produce more than 200 hours of live rugby coverage for Premier Sports each season including the annual showpiece final at Celtic Park in May 2019.
Richard Sweeney, Chief Executive of Premier Sports said:
“We are broadcasting a Championship full of world-class players, with a team of talent that reflects the ambition and class of the Guinness PRO14. We are delighted and excited to have secured experts at the top of their game talking up one of the most exciting club rugby competitions in the world.
“Premier Sports will be broadcasting every game live which will mean more people have access to the whole picture of rugby across the Guinness PRO14 Championship – that’s more than ever before all under one roof with a mix of match action and news across Premier Sports 1 & 2 and Free Sports.”
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, said:
“There are few countries in the world that live and breathe rugby like they do in Wales, so it’s fantastic to see the talent assembled by Premier Sports to front their Guinness PRO14 coverage is headlined by a stellar trio of British & Irish Lions alongside faces and voices so familiar to the Welsh public.
“To see Sam Warburton join Shane Williams and Martyn Williams on Premier Sports is hugely exciting, these are former players who know what it takes to win at the very highest level for the Lions, Wales and in the Guinness PRO14.
“Eddie Butler’s voice is synonymous with iconic moments in rugby and to have him in the Guinness PRO14 will add an extra level of aura to the Championship’s broadcasts. Ross Harries, Sean Holley, Lauren Jenkins and Wyn Gruffydd are among the best broadcasting talent in Wales and it’s hard to think of a more complete team to deliver the in-depth coverage that Premier Sports and Sunset+Vine will bring to the Guinness PRO14.
“Following on from Premier Sports’ announcement in Northern Ireland and what is still to come in Scotland, these are incredibly exciting times for the Guinness PRO14 where fans across the UK will now be able to watch all 152 games for the first time.”
Cerith Williams, Executive Producer Wales, for Sunset+Vine said:
“It’s going to be a thrilling new season of rugby as the Guinness PRO14 Championship goes from strength-to-strength and our rugby coverage will reflect that ambition. We want to deliver programmes with a modern, sophisticated take on rugby, with high quality match coverage, that’s visually stylish and insightful, original and with eloquent analysis.
“It’s vital that we engage with the many thousands of loyal and knowledgeable rugby supporters in Wales who support the Guinness PRO14 with a talent team that is passionate about Welsh Rugby, informed, honest and enjoy what they do. Our viewers will expect good editorial judgement in a fast-paced environment.”
Premier Sports has signed a landmark three-year deal with PRO14 Rugby to show all 152 games live each season across the UK including Northern Ireland. The season kicks off on 31 August with all seven games live on Premier Sports and Free Sports on the opening weekend.
Premier Sports is available on Sky and Virgin platforms and online via the Premier Player, while Free Sports will be available across seven different platforms.
In addition to every match from the Guinness PRO14 being covered by Premier Sports and Free Sports throughout the season, Welsh-language broadcaster S4C will also cover selected live matches for free-to-air audiences in Wales and across the UK.
A total of 17 live matches will be shown on S4C during the season, including Christmas and New Year derby matches and, should a Welsh region be involved, live coverage of the Guinness PRO14 final. Further coverage will also be available on an as-live basis.
Gareth Rhys Owen will lead S4C’s Clwb Rygbi presentation team alongside pitchside reporter Catrin Heledd, with the professional and experienced voices of Gareth Charles and former Wales captain Gwyn Jones providing commentary. Among the pundits will be former Wales internationals Nicky Robinson, Andrew Coombs, Dafydd Jones, Deiniol Jones, Caryl James and Wales full-back Dyddgu Hywel.
The continuing coverage of the Guinness PRO14 is part of S4C’s extensive rugby portfolio, showing rugby at all levels, from college and regional youth rugby, to age-grade international matches, to Principality Premiership and domestic cup competitions, to international matches from the Wales men’s and women’s teams.