There is to be free-to-air television coverage in the UK of a British and Irish Lions rugby union tour for the first time in almost 30 years after a highlights deal was agreed with commercial network Channel 4.

It was announced today that the broadcaster is to offer highlights on its main channel of all three of the Lions’ test matches against South Africa in July and August, while other tour matches will be available on the All4 channel.

In addition, as anticipated, Channel 4 is to broadcast live the Lions’ pre-tour home match against Japan at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on 26 June, which is being promoted as the Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup.

Subscription broadcaster Sky holds live television rights in the UK to the Lions’ matches in South Africa, and exclusive live radio rights were recently acquired by TalkSport.

The deal with Channel 4 means that there will be freely available TV coverage of a Lions tour in the UK for the first time since the 1993 series in New Zealand, with Sky having held exclusive TV rights to every tour since.

However, Channel 4 is by no means new to rugby union as it presently shows top matches from the European club game’s Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup, and Ireland’s home autumn internationals.

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In a statement Ben Calveley, the managing director of the British and Irish Lions, said: “We are delighted that Channel 4 are our broadcast partners for our first match on home soil since 2005. I am looking forward to the excellent coverage and analysis that Channel 4 will no doubt provide and going on the recent squad announcement I’m sure the interest and numbers tuning in will be considerable for this clash.”

Channel 4 head of sport Peter Andrews added: “It’s fantastic news for rugby fans who will relish the opportunity of seeing the British & Irish Lions in action on free-to-air television.”

Earlier this year, the network showed its first live cricket in 16 years as it picked up UK rights to England’s away test series in India.

Meanwhile, BT Sport, another UK pay-television broadcaster, has concluded an agreement with England’s Rugby Football Union to show the climax of the Premier 15s, the country’s top women’s clubs competition.

The network, already the home of men’s Premiership Rugby, will broadcast live the semi-finals between Harlequins and Wasps and between Saracens and Loughborough Lightning on 22 May, and the final on 30 May, on the BT Sport app.

All three games will take place at Kingsholm in Gloucester.