The 2003 tournament will be the first to be played under the condensed seven-week format which was announced earlier this year. Two consecutive weekends of play will be follwed by a weekend of rest; then one further weekend of play followed by another weekend of rest. The tournamentwill then conclude with two consecutive weekends of play.
The schedule, which provides for two games on every 'playing' Saturday of the tournament, followed by a single game on each Sunday, has been finalised in detailed liaison with the BBC, the Six Nations' television partner.
John Feehan, Six Nations' Commercial Director, said: "2003 will be the first year for many in which we have had unified television arrangements, and I am delighted that our relationship with the BBC is already proving to be onebased on partnership and co-operation.""In finalising the detail of this schedule, we have sought to retain theessential qualities and spirit of the Championship, and at the same time we have endeavoured to ensure that this great tournament will be watched by a wide, and expanding, television audience. We are now playing 50% morematches than used to be the case, and this had led to Sunday matches, necessary in order to avoid congestion and conflict. Also, in timing kick-offs, we have tried to avoid clashes with other sporting fixtures, meaning that live, televised Six Nations rugby will be guaranteed throughout theChampionship. This is good news both for our supporters and for our commercial partners."
Pat Younge, BBC Sport's Head of Programmes and Planning, said: "We aredelighted to have reached an agreement with the Six Nations Committee over kick-off times. The new schedule ensures no fixture clash, which we believe will benefit fans, spectators and sponsors alike and will also help raise rugby's profile, We're particularly pleased that the Wales vs England gamewill be played at 5.30 at the Millennium Stadium. It's a bold and imaginative move to bring rugby into peak-time viewing, which demonstrates the confidence of all parties in the potential appeal of the game."
Meanwhile, discussions with potential sponsors for the Six Nations Championship are proceeding well, with a number of major companies
SIX NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP 2003 Saturday, 15 February, 2003 - Italy v Wales, 13.30: England v France, 16.00. Sunday, 16 February, Scotland v Ireland 15.00.
Saturday, 22 February, Italy v Ireland 14.30: Wales v England 17.30:Sunday, 23 February, France v Scotland 14.00.
Saturday, 8 March, Ireland v France 14.00: Scotland v Wales, 16.00.Sunday, 9 March, England v Italy, 14.00.
Saturday, 22 March, Wales v Ireland 14.00: England v Scotland, 16.00.Sunday, 23 March, Italy v France, 14.00.
Saturday, 29 March, France v Wales, 13.00: Scotland v Italy, 15.00. Sunday, 30 March, Ireland v England 14.00.
(All above times are UK and Ireland times. Add an hour for Italy and France).