Record TV viewing figures for Six Nations showdown

LONDON (Reuters) - Staggered starts and scintillating rugby helped attract a peak record audience of nearly 10 million television viewers for the Six Nations’ finale between England and France, the BBC announced on Monday.

Chris Robshaw of England wins a lineout. Action Images via Reuters / Henry Browne

Ireland retained the title on points difference on Saturday after 9.63 million viewers tuned in to watch England battle with France in the championship’s climax, surpassing the previous record of 9.56 mln when the same two teams met in 2011.

The BBC Sport website also recorded its highest ever traffic, with 8.22 million unique UK browsers, beating the previous online record of 8.03 million during the London Olympics in 2012.

“What an amazing end to such a thrilling Six Nations championship, and duly reflected in such a huge audience figure of 9.63 million on BBC One, with millions more accessing content through radio, online and digital platforms,” said Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport.

The Six Nations has had a long-standing relationship with the BBC, whose current rights deal runs until 2017.

But that may change with the competition’s board saying in January it could consider offers from pay-TV operators for its next UK broadcast rights deal, which could mean the championship no longer being shown live on free-to-air television from 2018.

On ‘Super Saturday’ the kick-off times were staggered with Wales, Ireland and England all heading into their matches as potential title winners.

The Welsh started the seven-hour rugby marathon against Italy in Rome before Ireland travelled to Scotland and England welcomed France to Twickenham.

The staggered start times gave England an advantage as they went into the showdown with France knowing how many points they needed to take the Six Nations title.

The start times added to the tension in a spectacular climax where 27 tries and 221 points were scored.

Wales kicked things off in front of a peak television audience of 4.1 million viewers with a thumping 61-20 victory over Italy before Ireland trounced Scotland 40-10 in front of 5.1 million television viewers.

England, needing to beat France by 26 points at Twickenham, won 55-35 to finish six points behind Ireland and had to be content with the runners-up spot for the fourth successive year.

Reporting by Michael Hann; Editing by Ken Ferris