The optometry brand has signed a three-year partnership with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) that sees Specsavers getting behind New Zealand's Investec Super Rugby referees. The new deal was celebrated at a launch event with professional referees Nick Briant, Mike Fraser and Brendon Pickerill at Specsavers Queen Street store in central Auckland today.

All referees with duties at New Zealand Super Rugby matches will don a new strip, and all NZR high performance referees will have regular comprehensive eye examinations at Specsavers as part of their pre-season preparation.

"It's a great match for referees," said Neil Sorensen, NZR's General Manager Rugby.

"At the pace and energy that today's modern professional rugby is played, referees have to be able to keep up, and they need to be in tip-top condition. That includes having perfect eyesight to make all the tough calls they have to make throughout each game.

"Our referees know that to be selected, they need to be performing well, be in great physical shape, and have the mental strength to thrive in a highly visible job where all eyes can be on you, and not just the players.

"We know referees get a lot of stick for the things they see – or don't see – on the field. This partnership sends a good message to everyone, not just referees, that getting your eyes checked is important. That's why we have ensured our referees have had their Specsavers vision warrant of fitness from professional optometrists," said Sorensen.

All New Zealand professional referees will be examined before their first match of the season and then annually. Briant, Fraser and Pickerill received their comprehensive eye examinations at today's launch. The eye examinations not only test for vision, but with tools like digital retinal photography, the optometrists are able to examine overall eye health and screen for conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration.

The referees – who run an average seven kilometres in a game, and make hundreds of split-second decisions - also showcased their visual and mental acuity in-store by using the latest Fitlight training technology, a unique wireless reaction training system, which improves reaction times and peripheral vision.

Brendan Thompson, Specsavers New Zealand retail director, said the company had a long history of sports partnerships and was committed to ensuring the top referees were provided the best service and technology.

"They need to keep their eyes on the ball, and we're proud that we can help them do that."

Photo courtesy of PA Imagery

One of the world's most iconic brands, BMW, today announced it will bolster its commitment to Australian Rugby with an historic partnership across the national elite development pathway, the Pathway to Gold Program.

BMW will drive the future growth of Australian Rugby after becoming the overall naming rights partner of the Pathway to Gold Program, which includes the BMW Junior Gold Cup, the BMW Australian Schoolboys and the BMW Australian U20s team. The iconic BMW logo will adorn the front of the playing jersey of each team.

It is the first time in Australian Rugby history that the Pathway to Gold Program has received such a firm commitment from an external partner.

Australian Rugby Union CEO, Bill Pulver welcomed BMW's historic partnership: "This is the first time in our sport that we've formed a partnership that encompasses our entire Pathways program and we are privileged to have the support of one of the world's great international brands behind the young men and women who will one day represent the Wallabies and our Sevens teams.

"The Pathway to Gold Program is all about nurturing our elite teams and players to ensure success for Australian Rugby in the years to come."

BMW's support of the program will be pivotal to enabling our State unions and Super Rugby teams to identify and develop talent to ensure that our Qantas Wallabies and Qantas Australian Sevens teams continue to be among the world's best teams."

Stuart Jaffray, BMW Australia's General Manager of Marketing said: "As the driving force behind the Wallabies of today, it only makes sense that we extend our support to encompass the Wallabies of tomorrow.

"BMW's support of the Pathway to Gold Program underlines our ongoing commitment to Australian Rugby and the broader playing community, from grassroots to the elite level."

Qantas Wallabies and BMW's Pathways ambassador, Bernard Foley said: "As a player who came through the Australian Rugby pathways I know how important it is to have really strong support and I see this new partnership with BMW as a really solid step forward for the Pathway to Gold program and the game.

"It is crucial that our game has strong development pathways to attract the best talent and to guide those players through the ranks and give them the best opportunity to succeed at the elite level.

"To have a strong program you need to have that strong support and it's a great result for our game that we are able to announce this partnership with BMW."

The Pathway to Gold Program is the national Talent Pathways model that is designed to strengthen Australian Rugby across every format of the game for both men and women.

Newcastle Rugby, the parent company of Newcastle Falcons and Newcastle Thunder, has agreed a new partnership with leading UK brewer, Greene King.

The agreement will see Greene King IPA become the Falcons' principal partner with immediate effect until summer 2017 and the home shirt sponsors of Newcastle Thunder for the forthcoming 2016 season. Greene King has also been given exclusive pouring rights at Kingston Park stadium for the next five years.

The Greene King IPA logo will be displayed on the front of the Falcons' home and away shirts for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, as well as all shirts for the 2016-17 season. The logo will also appear on the front of the new Thunder home shirt, which has been unveiled today.

Greene King is one of the leading pub and brewing companies in the UK with a track record of supporting rugby union. Greene King IPA is currently the official beer of the RFU, Harlequins RFC and Worcester Warriors, and sponsors the RFU Greene King IPA Championship.

Speaking about the partnership, Mick Hogan, Newcastle Rugby Managing Director, said: "Once our long term future at Kingston Park was secured, we wanted to broaden the range of beers on offer in the stadium. Beer sales and barrelage are up due to increased match day attendances for both clubs, more non-match day events and the opening of the very successful and popular Tap & Tackle bar. We are incredibly pleased with the new partnership with Greene King, which has a really strong portfolio of beers and exciting ideas around engagement with our Falcons and Thunder fans."

Joe Parks, on trade sales director for Greene King, said: "Greene King IPA has been a supporter of rugby all levels of the game for many years. This coupled with our shared commitment to excellent hospitality means Greene King IPA is a natural partner for Newcastle Falcons and Newcastle Thunder.

"We are delighted to be bringing some of our leading ales to all visitors of the Kingston Park stadium and we look forward to continuing to grow a great relationship with the clubs and their fans over the coming years."

Greene King IPA will be introduced to all bars at Kingston Park Stadium with immediate effect. Seasonal Falcons and Thunder beers will also become available as the club looks to deliver a wide range of beer for its fans.

Scottish Rugby is delighted to announce the three-year contract extension of A.G. Barr as Official Soft Drink Partner, until 2019.

Duncan Weir toasts the new deal.The news comes just four days from Scotland's RBS 6 Nations opener against England at BT Murrayfield this Saturday (6 February 2016, kick-off 4.50pm).

The new deal – an extension of a successful 18-month contract – will see A.G. Barr's range of brands – including IRN-BRU, Scotland's favourite soft drink, Strathmore Water and Barr Cola – continue in their support of Scotland, Scotland 7s and the country's two professional clubs, Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby.

Over the past year and a half, A.G. Barr has supplied more than 200,000 bottles of Strathmore water to Scottish rugby athletes to keep them hydrated, as well as serving the country's favourite fare to the sell-out crowds at the biggest stadium in Scotland.

Adrian Troy, Head of Marketing at A.G. Barr, said: "It's an exciting time to be part of Scottish Rugby with the RBS 6 Nations just days away.

"We're proud of the fact that Strathmore Water is playing an important role in hydrating the Scotland team and that IRN-BRU, Barr Cola and Strathmore are being enjoyed by the fans.

"The new deal will continue until 2019 and includes support for the Scotland team, Scotland 7s team and professional clubs, Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby. "Over the last 18 months we've been part of some phenomenal moments in Scottish Rugby.

"The Scotland team had an inspirational Rugby World Cup campaign and, equally, Glasgow and Edinburgh have two strong and successful professional club sides.

"Confidence in Scottish Rugby is deservedly high. We look forward to the upcoming RBS 6 Nations tournament and making our portfolio part of the sporting action."

Toni Blackhurst, Head of Marketing & Sponsorship at Scottish Rugby, said: "We're delighted to be offering iconic A.G. Barr soft drinks to rugby fans at BT Murrayfield and Scotstoun Stadiums; and you can't beat celebrating the Scotland team's success with an IRN-BRU.

"We are proud to be associated with such an iconic Scottish brand and look forward to working with A.G. Barr over the next few years".

BT Murrayfield Stadium will host over 67,000 fans in the coming RBS 6 Nations Championship, with the home games against England and France selling out in record time (three months ahead of the fixtures).

Millions more are expected to watch on BBC and ITV; as the competition aims to surpass the 24 million that tuned in last year.

The agreement builds on A.G. Barr's long-standing support for Scottish sport. The brand was a sponsor of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and Team Scotland – cheering our team to success as an Official Supporter.

Rhino Rugby were very pleased to team up recently with Red Bull Racing and Bath Rugby to make a ground breaking and very special piece of moving imagery. Filmed at Bath Rugby's Farleigh House headquarters, F1 Scrum pitches a Formula 1 car against a rugby pack using a modified Rhino Dictator scrum machine as the interface between the two resulting in a competition, the likes of which have never been seen before.

Rhino engineers worked closely with Red Bull Racing engineers to design and make the modifications required to enable the car to engage with the scrum machine. Commenting, Red Bull Relations Manager, Marcus Prosser said "Rhino were an integral part of team that delivered this very special piece of film and we really couldn't have done it without them".

Rhino Rugby Ltd MD, Anthony Locke said "it was a real privilege to work with Red Bull on this project and to be associated with such a great piece of film. The Bath guys are used to pitching their strength and technique against the Dictator but not when it's being powered back against them by an F1 car driven by Daniel Ricciardo! Brilliant stuff and we very much look forward to working with Red Bull on future projects".

Click on the link below to watch the video.

Photo courtesy of PA Imagery

Performance apparel and footwear innovator Under Armour today announced a nine-year partnership extension with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

The deal is the longest on record for a Wales kit supplier, cementing a 17-year partnership that will see the brand maximise the national team's sports performance through to 2025, and reinforces Under Armour's commitment to making athletes better around the globe.

The global sports brand's presence in rugby is rapidly expanding. Under Armour first emerged in the sport as Official Technical Partner of WRU in 2008, when the Wales national side became the first licensed rugby team to wear Under Armour's technical apparel.

Under Armour has also reinforced its commitment to the WRU by becoming title sponsor of Welsh rugby's autumn international series matches, for the next nine years.

The Under Armour Series 2016 - which will welcome Australia, Argentina, Japan and South Africa to Principality Stadium on consecutive Saturdays in November - will be the first to boast such a long term brand partnership.

The clash with Japan is the latest to be added to the 2016 Under Armour Series match schedule and they face Wales on Saturday 19th November, kick-off 2.30pm.

The Wallabies kick-start the Series on Saturday 5th November (2.30pm) and the Pumas visit Cardiff on Saturday 12th November (5.30pm), with the Springboks completing a quartet of top quality opposition for Wales on Saturday 26th November (5.30pm).

"The Under Armour Series will be about testing ourselves against the best sides in the world, and with Japan now completing the fixture line-up for 2016, we have four teams from World Rugby's top ten coming to the Principality Stadium in November," said Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

"Under Armour's support for Wales has been unerring in every aspect since they came on board in 2008 and it is great news for Welsh rugby that they will be working with us until 2025."

The long-lasting partnership will also provide WRU with access to Under Armour's Connected Fitness platform, which will ensure that all athletes will benefit from health, fitness, and training data to improve their performance.

Since the partnership began in 2008, Wales have won the RBS 6 Nations Championship three times, including two Grand Slams and have continued to impress on the international stage.

Kevin Plank, Under Armour Founder and CEO, said: "We have always identified with the WRU's relentless and determined attitude, which align with our core values at Under Armour. I'm proud to form a long-term partnership with the WRU and look forward to seeing our innovative performance gear produce world-class results on the pitch."

In addition to match day kits, Under Armour will provide performance training apparel to the WRU first team, age grade squads, Sevens and Women's teams - all of which will feature Under Armour signature technologies, enabling peak performance in all weather conditions. This includes sweat-wicking HeatGear® fabric to help keep players cool and dry, and ArmourGrid™ technology for light, durable strength.

Martyn Phillips, WRU CEO, said: "Welsh rugby's partnership with Under Armour is a key foundation for our future plans and upholding the legacy of our national sport. We have much in common, in that we are both 'challenger brands' who have a tendency to 'punch above our weight'. The positive impact of this partnership, which also sees Under Armour take on the role of series sponsor for our autumn matches for nine years, will reach new heights on a global scale. I'm excited about the future, the potential for both brands and the opportunity to deliver on higher ambitions."

Gareth Davies, WRU Chairman said: "With the new partnership extension, Under Armour will become one of the WRU's longest serving commercial partners, supporting Welsh rugby through three decades. Their support and dedication to our national side has been unwavering, reflecting some great successes for us on the field."

Under Armour performance training apparel and footwear are currently worn by all Under Armour rugby athletes, including international players Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Jordi Murphy, Drew Mitchell, Jamie Cudmore, James Haskell, Taulupe Faletau and Dan Lydiate

The world's number one sports drink is partnering with the world's premier rugby team, the All Blacks, in a new five year partnership announced by New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and Gatorade today.

New Zealand Rugby said Gatorade, the world's leading sports drink, provided a great fit.

"We were looking for an instantly recognisable, global brand with the scale to help us increase the profile of the New Zealand game and our teams overseas so a partnership with Gatorade made sense on many levels," said NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew.

"Gatorade is the perfect fit for a dynamic, endurance-based sport like rugby – the strength of the brand is backed by 50 years of science, research and development - and it's widely used by many of the world's elite athletes and teams."

As well as providing highly effective hydration, the partnership with Gatorade will give access to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), the research and development arm of Gatorade. GSSI is committed to helping athletes optimise their health and performance through research and education in hydration and nutrition science.

"We're looking forward to working with GSSI," said Tew. "We're always searching for ways to lift our performance as we strive for excellence. NZR and Gatorade share a goal of driving elite performance and innovation so we see this partnership as being a great help to our players and teams."

Anuj Bhasin, Head of Global Gatorade, said; "Our goal is to support New Zealand's rugby players and teams by providing the most scientifically researched and game-tested sports drink and top-quality athlete service to help improve on-field performances.

"Gatorade is the official sports fuel supplier for many leading teams and top international athletes. Sportspeople have used the GSSI's research facilities and we look forward to sharing those benefits with New Zealand's rugby elite as they join the Gatorade family."

The new partnership will make Gatorade the Official Hydration Partner of the All Blacks and NZR's other national teams - the Maori All Blacks, All Blacks Sevens, New Zealand Women's Sevens, Black Ferns and New Zealand Under 20 until 2021, a period featuring major national sporting events both overseas and in New Zealand.

The NRL Auckland Nines event received a huge boost today with leading engineering and infrastructure group Downer taking over as the 2016 Nines naming rights sponsor.

Duco Events said the new partnership would go a long way to ensuring next month's event is a major success.

Downer agreed to take over the top sponsorship role following the end of Duco's partnership with electronics retailer, Dick Smith.

The multi-award winning tournament will now be known as the Downer NRL Auckland Nines and will be played on February 6 and 7 at Eden Park.

Downer has a long history in both Australia and New Zealand, dating back more than a century, and is now a Top-100 company on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Downer provides comprehensive services to customers in markets including transport, rail, mining, utilities, technology and communications, and engineering, construction and maintenance. Downer employs about 20,000 people and operates primarily in Australia and New Zealand but also in the Asia-Pacific region, South America and Southern Africa.

Martin Snedden Duco Events Chief Executive, in announcing the sponsorship agreement, said: "It is tremendous to be in a position today to announce Downer as the 2016 Nines naming rights sponsor.

"Being a highly respected and successful business throughout both Australia and New Zealand, they are a great fit with the Nines."

NRL Chief Commercial Officer, Michael Brown said the Downer sponsorship was a boost for the Nines on the eve of the 2016 tournament.

"The Nines has already become a great way to kick off the Rugby League season so it is important to have a prestigious naming rights sponsor," he said.

"We are delighted that a company with a brand like Downer has come on board at short notice. It is a real vote of confidence in the Nines."

Connacht Rugby along with HC Financial Advisers have today announced a renewal of their multi-season sponsorship agreement which will see HC continue to act in their capacity as 'Connacht Rugby's official Business Advisers' until the end of the 2016/17 season.

HC Financial Advisers was established in 1988 and is today the largest Financial Services Company in the West of Ireland. Speaking at the launch, HC's CEO Hannah Kiely said:

"We are delighted to welcome this continuation of our partnership with Connacht Rugby. Like Connacht, HC Financial Advisers are an ambitious and forward-thinking organisation and we are glad to be offering financial and business advice to the organisation throughout one of Connacht's most exciting periods in their history. This announcement builds on the existing relationship with many of the Connacht players and staff, fulfilling their financial needs and we look forward to the culmination of this exciting season."

Connacht Rugby Sponsorship Manager Gavin Duffy added:

"Aligning our own brand with an established and trusted regional brand is very important to us. We are delighted that HC Financial Advisers recognise the direction Connacht Rugby is heading in and that they want to continue with us on the journey."

EddieJones has announced his England squad ahead of the 2016 RBS 6 Nations campaign.

The 33 man squad will meet at Pennyhill Park on Sunday 24 January to prepare for their opening match against Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday 6 February.

Jones has named a number of uncapped players to the England senior setup. Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby), Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Paul Hill (Northampton Saints), and Maro Itoje (Saracens) are all included.

There are call ups for Chris Ashton (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints) and Marland Yarde (Harlequins) who missed selection for England's Rugby World Cup squad earlier this season.

Gloucester Rugby back row forward Matt Kvesic and Exeter Chiefs hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie are also named. Leicester Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi is included in the Elite Player Squad having last played for England in June 2014.

England Head Coach Eddie Jones said: "We have selected a squad of players who we think can go to Murrayfield and win. This is our number one priority, to start with a win, so we have picked a squad which is a mix of experience and potential.

"The long-term strategy for England is to develop a side who can be the most dominant team in world rugby, so we have chosen a lot of new players on the growth we see in them. We see these players growing into England players of the future and developing into a side who can be the best in the world. Our aim is to develop a squad where there is depth and competition in every position.

"I have spoken to some of the players who have not been selected. Naturally they will be disappointed and that is how it should be. They know what they need to do to get back into this squad. The door is not shut for anyone. There is no such thing as a shut door because of injuries and loss of form. There will always be opportunities to anyone playing consistently well in the Premiership and Europe."

"We will be without Manu Tuilagi for the Scotland game but we will continue to work with Leicester Tigers and Manu and see where he is as the Six Nations progresses. With big European weekends ahead there may be further changes once we assess the fitness of the players.

"I am really excited about working with England and together with Steve and Paul we hope to build a team that will reflect the level of talent that exists within the English game."
England Senior squad for RBS 6 Nations and Elite Player Squad

Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)
Jack Clifford (Harlequins)
Jamie George (Saracens)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
James Haskell (Wasps)
Paul Hill (Northampton Saints)
Maro Itoje (Saracens)
George Kruis (Saracens)
Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby) *injury replacement for Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs)
Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Joe Marler (Harlequins)
Matt Mullan (Wasps)
Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
Henry Thomas (Bath Rugby) *injury replacement for Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)

Chris Ashton (Saracens)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Danny Care (Harlequins)
Elliot Daly (Wasps)
Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby) *injury replacement for Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
George Ford (Bath Rugby)
Alex Goode (Saracens)
Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs) *injury replacement for Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
Marland Yarde (Harlequins)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Jonny May has not been considered due to a long-term injury.