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England's Rugby World Cup exit breaks UK television viewing record

By Ian Cameron
Owen Farrell of England looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and South Africa at Stade de France on October 21, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England’s heartbreaking loss to South Africa in the Rugby World Cup on Saturday has emerged as the most-watched program of the year on ITV1, outstripping the popularity of renowned shows such as ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and the coronation of King Charles III in May.

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England endured a heart-wrenching 16-15 defeat to South Africa, missing their shot at a place in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand.

For much of the match Steve Borthwick’s men held a nine-point advantage, but their dominance in the wet condition began to fade as the Boks’ so-called ‘Bomb Squad’ exerted their influence in the scrum.

Video Spacer

England coach Steve Borthwick explains why it is so tough to overcome the Springboks

Video Spacer

England coach Steve Borthwick explains why it is so tough to overcome the Springboks

Indeed, it was South Africa’s set-piece dominance and the strategic brilliance of substitute fly-half Handre Pollard that turned the tide in the rain-soaked arena. In the 70th minute, RG Snyman powered over for the sole try of the match, with Pollard converting, setting the stage for a breathtaking conclusion to a match that captivated television audiences back in the UK.

ITV reported that a remarkable 8.7 million viewers were gripped by the climactic moments of the semi-final match, which culminated in South Africa securing a nail-biting 16-15 victory with a last-minute penalty kick, thus booking their place in the final next weekend in the Stade de France.

Live coverage of the game captivated an audience of 7.2 million viewers, representing a substantial 41 per cent of the total television viewership. This game not only marked itself as the most-watched fixture of the entire tournament but also earned the distinction of being the most-viewed rugby match since the 2021 Six Nations when England squared off against Scotland, which was also broadcast on ITV1.

Tail-to-tip overage of the semi-final was viewed by a staggering 5.2 million viewers, securing its place as ITV1’s most-watched overnight event of the year, second only to ‘Britain’s Got Talent.’

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The Rugby World Cup also broke television viewing records in Ireland. Virgin Media Television achieved record viewership, with 1.378 million people tuning in to watch Ireland’s Rugby World Cup loss to the All Blacks, marking the highest viewership in its 25-year history.

This became the year’s most-watched program to date.  Virgin Media Television’s head of news and sport, noted that 78 per cent of viewers at the time watched the quarter-final, peaking at 1.541 million at 9:49 pm on the night of the quarter-final.

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