London's Olympic Stadium has been chosen to play host to five Rugby World Cup games in 2015.

13 other stadiums have been named in conjunction with the now-54,000 capacity arena. Twickenham Stadium will play host to three out of England's four pool games, the first of which will be played on the 18th September. The home of English Rugby will also host two quarter-finals, both semi-finals and the final itself.

The only other rugby grounds that have been selected are Cardiff's Millennium stadium, Gloucester's Kingsholm stadium and Exeter's Sandy Park. Eight Football stadiums will be used as the remaining venues including Wembley, St James Park, Elland Road, Etihad and Villa Park.

The Olympic Stadium will see the likes of rugby heavyweights New Zealand, South Africa and France gracing London's newest high-capacity stadium, as well as hosting the match between Ireland and Italy on Sunday October 4th. The tournaments bronze match will also be played at the east London stadium on Friday 30th October.

Sandy Park and Etihad Stadiums were added to the roster of World Cup venues after Manchester United's Old Trafford ground pulled out due to concerns over post-match pitch quality. The tournament organisers, England Rugby 2015, have to sell 2.9 Million tickets to cover the £80m guarantee owed to the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Not only do the stadiums that have been selected have high capacity, but have also been selected due to their geographical diversity, a massively important criteria for the tournament organisers when trying to maximise ticket sales and reach as large an audience as possible, especially in those regions where the sport does not command quite as big a draw and people are less likely to travel longer distances to watch live games.

The 37 strong British and Irish Lions squad to tour Australia was announced earlier today in London, with bookies favourite Sam Warburton awarded the captaincy.

As always, there were a few wildcard selections, as well as some thought-to-be certainties left out. Rory Best, Chris Robshaw and Jonny Wilkinson all missed out on selection, whilst Matt Stevens, who retired from international duty last summer was named in the final squad. Former British and Irish Lion Dan Lydiate was also named in the touring party, despite missing both the autumn internationals and RBS Six Nations through injury.

Many believed that, after his sterling performance at the home of English rugby in the Heineken Cup, Jonny Wilkinson would at least make the squad. However, Tour Manager Andy Irvine told BBC Radio 5 live "The truth is Jonny wasn't up for it. He ruled himself out, he told Warren that he feels his body isn't in the right shape to complete a tour like this. I admire his honesty and integrity."

Gatland's 37-man party contains a balance of experienced old hands, talented young thrusters and players with the required 'X factor' to provide something a little bit different.

Brian O'Driscoll will deservedly become only the third player ever - and the third Irishman - to go on four Lions tours. Two other legends, Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson, both made five.

Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Welshman Gethin Jenkins are summoned for their third tour of duty, while nine other players will be embarking on a second Lions adventure.

The 10-match tour opens against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1st of June, with Tests against Australia on June 22nd (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane), June 29th (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne) and July 6th (ANZ Stadium, Sydney).

Backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Alex Cuthbert, Sean Maitland, George North, Jonathan Davies, Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Mike Phillips, Ben Youngs.

Forwards: Dan Cole, Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Matt Stevens, Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Richard Hibbard, Tom Youngs, Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Toby Faletau, Jamie Heaslip, Dan Lydiate, Sean O'Brien, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) Board of Directors has considered the independent audit carried out on all four clubs in the Championship semi-finals, with only Bedford Blues of the four Chammpionship semi-finalists failing to meet the Minimum Standard Criteria (MSC) set out for eligibility for promotion to the Aviva Premiership.

The audit, carried out by independent auditors PMP legacy, found Newcastle Falcons, Leeds Carnegie and Nottingham Rugby all suitable for promotion to English rugby's top tier. Bedford Blues, however, were the only team who failed to meet the MSC.

Bedford, who face Nottingham in their semi-final clash, have 14 days to appeal the decision. At the clubs AGM last month the Blues Chairman Geoff Irvine indicated that the club would not seek promotion under the current circumstances and expressed no desire to leave their current residence at Goldington Road.

The MSC are set by the Professional Game Board (PGM), a joint group comprised from members from the RFU, Premiership Rugby, RFU Championship clubs and the Rugby Players Association.

The MSC has caused a huge amount of debate and legal argument in recent years, with London Welsh having their promotion to the Aviva Premiership initially blocked in 2012 when it was decided that they did not have primacy of tenure for their shared ground with Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium, a decision later overturned on appeal on the grounds that the rules governing primacy of tenure "infringed UK and European law". The successful appeal came at the cost of current semi-finalists Newcastle Falcons.

The financial reputation of rugby league was in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2012 and has continued into 2013, with the RFL making the news once again.

The downfall and resurrections of Super League teams Bradford Bulls and Salford City Reds have been well documented by the media, and both have begun the season with a winning start.  However, the financial issues that have been commonplace amongst Super League clubs have not been subjected to an overnight fix, with a recent BBC ‘Inside Out’ investigation revealing that Super League clubs are facing combined debts in excess of £60m.  

Sports finance expert Rob Wilson, from Sheffield Hallam University, believes that it is not disproportionate when claiming that rugby league clubs are staring into what he describes as the ‘financial abyss’.  Gary Hetherington, chief executive of six-time Super League champions Leeds Rhinos, insists that the problem lies with financial management at club level, rather than an inherent defect in the sport’s current commercial model.

 "The product on the field has never been better, the crowds are very strong, the TV audiences are very strong, the game itself is as good as it's ever been," Hetherington told the BBC.

"We don't want that overshadowed by incompetence at club level - and that's what we've seen in recent years.

"We need to rid ourselves of poor management practices. All clubs have a real responsibility, a real role to play. The majority of clubs are working hard. It's some of the others that have let the sport down, quite frankly."

The RFL director of standards and licensing Blake Solly agreed that the on-field product is not the problem: "Attendances were at an all-time high in 2012, more people saw the game on television than ever before and the RFL was able to make record levels of financial disbursements to clubs."

The BBC report came days before the RFL appointed Brian Barwick as the new non-executive chairman. The ex FA chairman intends to use his far reaching and influential contact book to further promote rugby league and assist clubs in turning around the financial deficit.  

With the Rugby League World Cup being held in England and Wales later on this year, many feel that this could be the key to stabilising the sport’s financial future through an increase in commercial income, while simultaneously attracting stable sponsors and partners. However, if the opinions voiced by Gary Hetherington and shared by others are in fact true, an increase in revenue may not be the resolution to the financial problems that clubs are looking for, with their long-term financial stability reliant on sound financial management at club level.

 

By Emily Shotton

BT Vision's highly anticipated arrival into the sports broadcasting arena has seen another interesting development, with rivals Sky refusing to carry an ad campaign for the BT Sport channels that will be launched this summer via BT Vision and YouView.

Following Sky's decision, BT has issued a complaint to the media regulator Ofcom, claiming that the ban on advertising equates to "undue discrimination" and is in breach of UK broadcasting rules.

BT has lined up one of its biggest marketing campaigns for the launch of its new service, which sees the broadband and phone provider carrying Premiership rugby as a direct rival to Sky, as well as rights to Premier League football, the FA Cup and the Europa League. The broadcaster has also announced the acquisition of star names such as Rugby World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio to its team of pundits.

In response to Sky's actions, BT commented: "We are happy to take Sky's advertising but they seem afraid of taking ours. It's like a Rottweiler running away from a new born puppy."

The Ofcom Code on the Prevention of Undue Discrimination between Broadcast Advertisers states: "A television broadcaster must not unduly discriminate between advertisers that seek to have advertising included in its licensed service."

BT Sport is expected to go on air on August 1, ahead of its first live Premier League football games on August 17 and its first rugby matches to be aired in September.

A part of BT's contention with Sky's decision lies in the fact that Sky has previously advertised and retailed both of BT's predecessors, ESPN and Setanta. The change in Sky's attitude to its rivals in the case of BT could lie in the fact that BT has a much greater selection of matches to watch, particularly in football, than ESPN or Setanta previously enjoyed. Consequently, Sky may be viewing BT as a much more credible threat than the previous two broadcasters.

A Sky spokesman said: "There are many other avenues for BT to advertise its sports channels without seeking to take advantage of the investments that we've made to build Sky Sports.

"It's entirely reasonable for us to choose not to carry advertising for a directly competing service."

This is not the first disagreement that the new BT Vision service has created since announcing its foray into the world of rugby broadcasting. In 2012 BT Sport announced that the new service had signed a four year agreement to show Premiership rugby, sevens rugby and weekly games from France's Top 14 competition. However, it was the announcement that they were also going to broadcast top European cup competition games involving English clubs as part of the agreement that has caused a huge rift.

European Rugby Cup (ERC) had already sold the rights to broadcast European cup competitions to Sky, and has stated that such an agreement between BT Vision and Premiership rugby is not permissible, a sentiment back up by the RFU. The agreement between BT Vision and Premiership rugby is being viewed by some as a statement of intent by the top tier of English rugby and a possible first step in a break away from the ERC competitions. ERC has strong financial reasons for this not to happen, as the payments from Sky for the rights to European competition matches will diminish should either the English or French clubs no longer be involved.

The British and Irish Lions have confirmed Maximuscle as their official sports nutrition supplier for this summer's tour to Australia.

Also the official sports nutrition partner of England Rugby, Maximuscle has already provided nutritional support to the 2005 and 2009 tours. Commenting on the relationship with the nutrition brand, British & Irish Lions CEO John Feehan said: "We have plenty of experience working with Maximuscle on previous tours and regard their sports nutrition products to be the best in the business.

"Maximuscle has a fantastic range of products that will cater to all of our player's needs throughout the six weeks."

Senior sponsorship manager for Maximuscle, Mark Morgan, added: "The British & Irish Lions tours are an incredible concept and one that I know, through talking to other Maximuscle ambassadors, resonates with all sports people. The Lions is a brilliant advert for the sport of rugby; it demonstrates teamwork of the highest order. We are delighted to be a part of this tour and proud of our position as the leading nutrition brand within the sport."

"International rugby is seriously demanding; the players' bodies take a lot of knocks and this strain is then intensified by the tough tour schedule. The nutrition plans, devised by our expert nutritionists, alongside the Lions coaching team, will be essential in enabling the squad to recover after training and tough preliminary games and to go on to perform at their very best in the Test Matches."

A part of the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) owned Maxinutrition group, Maximuscle works with over 1,000 athletes and professional sports teams including the Welsh Rugby Union, London Wasps and Northampton Saints, alongside individuals including Chris Robshaw and George North.

The Rugby Union of Russia (RUR), hosts of this year’s Sevens World Cup, have announced three new sponsors in the form of Bank Zenit, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) and Canterbury of New Zealand.

 “"We are hugely excited to have these three major brands on board," RUR President Vyacheslav Kopiev said.

“Not only are they going to be a part of something truly special in Moscow, but their involvement reaffirms Russia's ambition to become a major player in global rugby both as a host country and on the field of play.”

With sevens rugby gaining immense popularity of late as well as earning a place on the Olympic Games programme for 2016 and 2020, top brands are clamouring to be involved, with the RUR suggesting further commercial announcements are to follow.

“These key partnerships with top brands deliver high visibility to a mass global audience and are tailored to suit each brand's unique key marketing and business objectives, both in stadia, where more than 115,000 fans are anticipated to attend across the tournament, and through a global television audience reach of close to one billion.,” added Kopiev.

“We are currently engaged in discussions with other potential sponsors who are also interested in becoming involved in this tournament.”

The Sevens Rugby World Cup will be held on June 28-30 at Russia’s biggest sports arena, the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The 78,360 stadium will see 24 men’s teams and 16 women’s teams in action and will be one of the biggest events for sevens rugby before the sport makes its Olympic debut at Rio 2016.

 

By Emily Shotton

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the England Rugby Football Schools Union (ERFSU) have announced NatWest as the new official title partner of the Schools Cup. Previously the Daily Mail RBS Schools competition, the tournament will be solely sponsored by NatWest from the start of the upcoming 2013-14 season.

The newly-named NatWest Schools Cup will offer 1,000 teams across the country competing at Under 15 and Under 18 level a chance to play at Twickenham to win the sought-after trophies.

This year's final day attracted thousands of supporters to the home of England Rugby, with a further 58,000 watching on rfu.com.

Commenting on the agreement, the RFU's chief commercial officer Sophie Goldschmidt said: "The RFU are delighted to welcome NatWest on board as title partner of the Schools Cup and are excited about the new opportunities that this partnership will bring."

All schools that enter the competition play for a main cup and a vase for teams knocked out in the early rounds, both of which result in a final showdown at Twickenham.

Tim Stirk, ERFSU President added: "The Schools competition has fast become a pathway for young players up and down the country to play rugby in a competitive environment, testing themselves and their improvement against schools that they would not meet on their usual fixture list. It is also the showcase of the high standards achieved by schools in England."

You need only glance at the players who have passed through the Schools competition, including Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Manu Tuilagi and Elliott Daly to see the impact the tournament can have on inspiring those players with aspirations to become professionals. This partnership commitment is another huge step forward for the competition and on behalf of the ERFSU, I am delighted to welcome NatWest."

Chris Long, senior sponsorship manager at NatWest, commented: "It's a fantastic competition and one that all school rugby players across England want to win. Alongside NatWest, Rugby Force, a community initiative that has provided support to over 1,000 local rugby clubs since 2009, this partnership further demonstrates our commitment to supporting grassroots rugby in the UK."

Over 6,000 demountable grandstand seats have been installed at Allianz Park, home of Saracens RFC. This latest addition is part of the £24 million development to the site, which has been purpose built as a multi-functional facility with artificial pitch and running track.

Arena Seating installed the stadium's seating, which will be dismantled and removed from the running track during the close season, providing opportunities for the venue to host athletics events and concerts during the summer months.

Arena supported the club by designing and installing three grandstands to compliment Saracens' permanent facilities; more than 4,500 demountable grandstand seats have already welcomed sell-out crowds across the North, West and South Stands of the newly opened Allianz Park.

Commenting on the latest addition to the facility, Saracens CEO Edward Griffiths said: "Arena Seating have provided out stranding advice and counsel, beyond simply the excellent demountable seating. There were many challenges in the development of Allianz park, and Arena representatives played an important role within the team that addressed these challenges, found solutions and created a stadium that is flexible, attractive and above all, fun."

Dave Withey, sales director at Arena Seating, added: "We are proud to have worked with Saracens on developing a stadium with this range of seating options, arrangements and solutions to create a flexible model for the rugby and sporting clubs that enhance their spectator viewing experience and optimize ground capacity."

The North and South stands will host standalone grandstands laid on top of the running track, accommodating 1,092 spectators in each. These have been purchased by the club but will be removed and re-built as soon as the rugby season draws to a close so that they can be used at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) in central London for Saracens in the City matches this summer.

Social media history will be made this weekend when the first ever live rugby union match will be broadcast via Twitter.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) carried out a public vote to see which from the remaining matches in the Championship fans would want to see streamed live, with the final league game between Cornish Pirates and Jersey receiving 29% of the 7,000 votes cast.

With Jersey already having secured their RFU Championship status for a second season following Doncaster’s midweek defeat to Bedford Blues, and Cornish Pirates guaranteed to finish outside the top four for the first time since 2010, the game will have no impact on the clubs’ final league positions. However, now the subject for this unique broadcasting first, both teams will be looking to put in a great performance for their new viewers.

The live Twitter broadcast also allows for viewers to share their thoughts and opinions throughout the match using #rfuchamplive, with the interactive experience increased as a number of these messages will be read out live on air by the commentary team. Viewers of the live Twitter stream can also nominate their man of the match after the 60 minute mark, the winner of which will be presented with a bespoke ‘Twitter man of the match’ bottle of champagne.

To view the game, follow @RFUChampionship. The match will be streamed live from 14:45.