New Guinness PRO14 broadcaster Premier Sports has poached BBC Scrum V regulars to front their coverage of the tournament which begins in under four weeks time.
WalesOnline understands that Ross Harries, who has anchored BBC Wales’ match coverage as well as it’s popular Sunday magazine TV programme and radio shows, has been signed up by the subscription channel who pinched the rights from his current employer last March.
It’s also believed Sean Holley, who has forged a fine reputation as a studio analyst since calling time on a coaching career that took in spells at the Ospreys and Bristol, will be part of Premier Sports’ team.
As yet it’s unclear whether Harries, who is seen as a safe pair of hands in front of the camera and who ghosted the autobiography of former Wales and Lions prop Adam Jones two years ago, will continue to also carry out any work for the BBC.
Harries has been a permanent staff member at the headquarters in Llandaff, but the Beeb has a range of contracts which allow employees to work in various freelance capacities.
BBC Wales would be loathe to see Harries leave, particularly as only last week they announced that they would still be screening live Welsh rugby this coming season – semi-professional Premiership matches every Friday night. Holley, too, is highly thought of.
There are suggestions Harries has become frustrated at the BBC and wants to explore other opportunities.
The Premier Sports plan is thought to include Welsh, Scottish and Irish-hosted coverage of PRO14 games each weekend. Harries would naturally present matches involving Welsh sides, but there is also set to be an overall highlights show.
Meanwhile Beeb bosses will watch with interest as to who, other than Holley, Premier Sports bring on board as pundits.
They are expected to plump for younger retired players. The likes of Shane Williams and Martyn Williams fit that bill, but contributors of their stature are already in high demand and it remains to be seen how much BBC Wales will, or indeed can, continue to use them.
Dual code legend Jonathan Davies, a stalwart of BBC rugby coverage for nearly two decades, has revealed he will not be part of the Premier Sports operation.
Premier Sports won the rights to host all of the PRO14’s 152 matches live in a development that stunned staff at BBC Wales.
Twenty-one of those matches will be shown on the company’s free-to-air sister channel FrreSports.
The new subscription channel will cost viewers £9.99 per month but will mean every match is available to watch for the first time in history.
While supporters of the deal have claimed it represents relative value for money, many rugby fans are angry that the sport is sprinkled around different subscription channels and argue that makes watching every competition too expensive.
The combined value of the new deal to the league, plus the separate deals in Ireland and South Africa, is understood to be around £30m.
This represents a 100% increase in revenue in the past three years and will mean a financial boost for each of the Welsh regions.