Six Nations: BBC & ITV to share broadcast rights from 2016

Ireland celebrate winning the Six Nations
Ireland won the 2015 Six Nations courtesy of a superior points tally over England and Wales

The BBC and ITV will share the rights to broadcast rugby union's Six Nations Championship for the next six years.

Wales, Scotland and France home matches will be on the BBC, while ITV will show England, Ireland and Italy home games.

BBC Radio 5 live will continue live commentary of all matches, which will be available on the BBC Sport website.

BBC director of sport Barbara Slater said: "It's great news for fans of the Six Nations that the championship will be staying on free-to-air television."

Niall Sloane, director of sport at ITV, which is broadcasting the Rugby World Cup in September and October, said: "We're delighted to be strengthening our ties with the game."

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Games shown live on the BBC will be available online and via the BBC Sport app. When matches are on ITV, highlights will be available via the BBC Sport website shortly after full-time.

The 2015 tournament on the BBC saw audiences rise to their highest level since 2003. A peak of 9.6 million tuned in on the final day to watch a thrilling climax as England thrashed France, but narrowly lost out on the championship title to Ireland.

More than 24 million tuned in to the Six Nations this year.

The BBC has had exclusive rights since 2003, and the previous deal was due to run until 2017.

"It's a very special competition and our viewing figures from this year prove just how popular it is with audiences," added Slater.

"We very much look forward to starting our new partnership with ITV and continuing our strong relationship with RBS Six Nations."

There are 15 games in each year of the Six Nations and the BBC will have eight and ITV seven in 2016, while that tally will be reversed the following year.

If the 2016 fixturesexternal-link remain as scheduled then the BBC will screen both matches on the opening day, with France v Italy followed by Scotland v England set for Saturday, 6 February.

ITV would host Ireland v Wales on Sunday, 7 February, while the BBC would screen the tournament's final game, France v England, a 20:00 GMT kick-off, on Saturday, 19 March.

Six Nations 2015: Ireland parade trophy at Murrayfield