The Guinness Pro 14 could return to terrestrial television next season with RTÉ strong contenders to take over the tournament’s primary broadcasting rights in the Republic of Ireland following Eir Sport’s decision not to renew when their current contract expires at the end of the season.
Eir issued a statement last week confirming that the current Eir Sport business model was no longer viable and that the company was exploring future options for the service. The closure of licensed premises had “fundamentally changed the commercial model for subscription-based sports broadcasters” with television and content revenue falling from €22 million to €12 million.
Eir confirmed that they had not taken part in the latest round of sporting rights auctions but added that “we are currently exploring options for the future of Eir Sport”.
The expectation is that RTÉ would join TG4 and potentially Premier Sports, both of whom currently broadcast Pro 14 matches while BBC and S4C are expected to agree rights to some live matches in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
RTÉ's current rugby content revolves around the live broadcast of the women's and under-20s Six Nations matches as well as the Against the Head programme. They lost the live broadcast rights to the Six Nations following the 2017 tournament to TV3 (now Virgin Media), a four-season contract (2018-2021) that is currently up for renegotiation.
It is seven years since RTÉ (2014) was last involved with the Pro 14 but there would be an appetite among the general public, certainly from a financial standpoint, to have the tournament back on terrestrial television, especially one that will benefit from the proposed introduction of the four South African franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – next season.
Meanwhile, Rhys Ruddock was satisfied that his return to the extended Ireland squad and then a start against France was a vindication of a number of mental and physical changes that he undertook to realise that goal after missing out on the Six Nations last year.
He explained: “I suppose leading up to when we went into lockdown, I probably wasn’t overly happy with my game in certain areas. I just felt like one of the main things I wanted to work on was becoming more dynamic and explosive in contact, especially with ball carry and making more dominant tackles. That’s the kind of player I want to be, physical and a collision winner.
“Then the other side, my confidence wasn’t quite where it needed to be, which I had to work on first. I suppose the lockdown kind of gave me a chance to do both. So I decided that in order to be more powerful, [I had to] be lighter and stronger.
“I thought the combination of the two, playing lighter but stronger, would make me more dynamic and explosive and then trusting and building confidence on the back of that: trying to bring that onto the pitch and in training, I just believed it was going to lead to better performances.”
He certainly delivered on that promise, recognised in a host of man-of-the-match performances for Leinster before joining Andy Farrell’s squad during the Six Nations. On Saturday’s he’s back in blue and looking forward to a final against Munster at the RDS.
“The hunger for both teams is massive but if we put ourselves in their shoes and [had] lost five [finals] in a row; sometimes they’ve been unbelievably close and they’ve ( been hugely unlucky to lose those games, the motivation level is the same as ours in terms of winning trophies.
“The intensity of this game is probably going to be at a level that we haven’t faced this season yet. It’s going to be a massive test but I think we’ve got enough experience in the squad to understand what that’s going to look and feel like on the day.
“Everyone in the group would have faced something similar over their careers hopefully, and if they haven’t I suppose it’s making them understand what Munster’s motivation is and how difficult it’s going to be.”