Premiership head coaches urge league to ‘get the game out there’ as free-to-air highlights scrapped

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Bristol Bears' Head coach Pat Lam - Premiership head coaches urge league to ‘get the game out there’ as free-to-air highlights scrapped - PA
Bristol Bears' Head coach Pat Lam - Premiership head coaches urge league to ‘get the game out there’ as free-to-air highlights scrapped - PA

Coaches across the Gallagher Premiership have expressed their disappointment following news that a weekly highlights package previously broadcast by Channel 5 has been taken off air.

After a successful year for free-to-air sport in the UK, with Euro 2020 and Emma Raducanu's US Open triumph being shown to a mass audience of millions, the lack of free-to-air national exposure for Premiership Rugby was seen as a backwards step by coaches including Bristol's Pat Lam and Bath's Stuart Hooper, along with Northampton assistant coach Sam Vesty.

The popular weekly highlights show on Channel 5 was previously hosted by Mark Durden-Smith and former England prop David Flatman, with the broadcaster also showing a number of Premiership matches live last season. Highlights are now shown on Premiership Rugby's website, with Flatman part of the coverage.

A Premiership spokesman commented: "We are very proud of our digital-first service for fans, Premiership Rugby TV, which is available worldwide.

"This on-demand platform includes a Monday evening show with David Flatman, alongside full-match replays and highlights of all 159 Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, most of them just 12 hours after the final whistle of each game."

Lam recalled his own personal experience with matches being shown to a bigger audience from his time as a player in the Premiership, explaining: "Certainly when I was playing up here the Premiership was on Sky in those days and my kids were at school. The only time the kids came to see us at Northampton was when we played Heineken Cup because that was on the BBC. Every kid came back saying 'I watched the game, it was fantastic'. When we played in the Premiership, they did not have that access.

Pat Lam captained Northampton to a Heineken Cup final in 1999 - EPA
Pat Lam captained Northampton to a Heineken Cup final in 1999 - EPA

"I understand the whole value of the game but anything that promotes our game and brings money into our game I am a massive fan of. The more that people can see our great game and particularly this year in the Premiership the better.

"I am a huge believer that the more exposure our game gets, the better - by whatever means, certainly terrestrial TV. I thought Channel 5 did a great job."

Hooper added: "The more people can see this sport, on and off the field, the better, because it's a fantastic product. Surely we want as many people as possible to be able to see it? I understand there are commercial rights to deal with, but let's get the game out there, people seeing it, enjoying it and being entertained by it."

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Vesty noted that many people had used the highlights show to catch up with the latest action across the Premiership, calling for it to return.

"Will lack of terrestrial coverage have an effect on connection with the wider sporting public? I do [think so]," he said. "I am surprised that decision has been reached. I wouldn’t know the viewing figures but I would imagine they would be quite high. I know quite a few people anecdotally who watch that show to pick on who’s doing what. I think it is a funny decision. I would like to see it back."

Meanwhile, the first wave of British and Irish Lions players, including Northampton’s Courtney Lawes, are due to return to Premiership action this weekend, weeks ahead of schedule. Under the terms of a 2018 agreement with the Rugby Players’ Association, England internationals were entitled to ten weeks’ rest from the end of the Lions series meaning they would not be available until mid-October. 

 Courtney Lawes of England runs into a tackle bag during the England Training Session at The Lensbury on September 28, 2021 in Teddington, England - GETTY IMAGES
Courtney Lawes of England runs into a tackle bag during the England Training Session at The Lensbury on September 28, 2021 in Teddington, England - GETTY IMAGES

However, that does not apply to Welsh and Scottish players such as Dan Biggar and the Worcester pair of Rory Sutherland and Duhan Van Der Merwe who are both “in contention” to face Gloucester this weekend according to head coach Jonathan Thomas.

Lawes, too, could feature in Northampton’s fixture against London Irish at Franklin’s Gardens. Despite playing in all three Tests, Lawes played less than 1,000 minutes of rugby last season, including just five matches for Northampton, and has been cleared to play on Saturday.

“Using common sense around how much rugby he’s played, he’ll be available for us going forward,” Sam Vesty, Northampton’s attack coach, said. “Courtney has not played many games of rugby, is lightly-raced, has had a pre-season and is ready to go - and wants to go. Everyone is happy with that being the case."

Eddie Jones' new lieutenant, Martin Gleeson, inspired by Shaun Edwards for cross-code switch

by Daniel Schofield

New England attack coach Martin Gleeson says that he was inspired to cross codes by the success of league legend Shaun Edwards in union.  

Gleeson finished his first England training camp on Tuesday as part of Eddie Jones’ latest revamped coaching team. The former Great Britain international only started coaching in the 15-man code two years ago having joined Wasps in 2019, however he says that he has “no fear whatsoever” in joining the carousel of assistant coaches under Jones. 

Any reservations he had about leaving league, where he rebuilt his career as a coach since serving a doping ban in 2011, were dispelled by several private chats with Edwards, a fellow Wiganer and the current France defence coach. “Shaun Edwards was a big influence in me coming to rugby union,” Gleeson said. “When he was the Wales coach I used to go and see him throughout the year and he’d ask me stuff about defences when I was still in league. I’d go to his house and we’d have some good conversations. That really started piquing my interest in the game. 

“You’ve got to back yourself. I played internationally at a young age in rugby league. Growing up, you want to play for your country. I’ve been the same as a coach; you want to coach your country. I’m a proud Englishman and I want to coach the best players in the best competitions. That’s come to me at an early age in coaching - same as playing. I am fortunate to be in this position and I am really looking forward to what’s ahead. I am not fearful of anything.”

Martin Gleeson at Wasps - GETTY IMAGES
Martin Gleeson at Wasps - GETTY IMAGES

The Wigan link extends to Andy Farrell, whom Gleeson played alongside for Great Britain, and he was immediately struck in training by the similarities with his son, Owen. “His dad was a great player and a fantastic leader,” Gleeson said. “I think Owen is a chip off the old block.”

Whereas most coaches who arrive from league gravitate towards defence, Gleeson has been handed the responsibility of reviving England’s attack that has stuttered badly since the 2019 World Cup. “I’d like England to play with skill, with pace and with power,” Gleeson said. “Certain opposition and certain conditions dictate some of the parts of the way you play, but people pay their money to be entertained as well, don’t they?

“There are going to be more opportunities to attack and we have got to be ready to be able to take what opportunities come our way and be adaptable to different situations and different teams and the way they defend, especially with the new laws coming in. We want a balanced game and want to be a team that can challenge all kinds of defences.”

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