ITV scores 14.5m as viewers tune in for Wilkinson's kick

LONDON – ITV's coverage of the Rugby World Cup final surpassed expectations on Saturday morning as 14.5m people tuned in to watch England's Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal, which secured England's 20-17 extra-time victory over Australia.

The average audience for the match was 12.3m, a 77% share of the UK audience. This is the second highest UK audience recorded for an international game, second only to the 13.6m viewers who watched the 1991 Rugby World Cup Final on ITV when Australia beat England at Twickenham.

The audience was higher than predicted, as viewer numbers were expected to be hit by the 9am match kick off. Last week a spokesman for ITV safely predicted the final would draw more than 10m.

The previous Saturday's semi-final, in which England beat the French 24-7, drew an average audience of 7.6m and peaked at 8.8m, a 64% share of viewing.

The peak audience of 14.5m equalled an 82% share of the UK audience between 11.20 and 11.24, the time Wilkinson's kick was taken.

Brian Barwick, ITV controller of sport, said: "We are delighted so many millions of viewers were able to share such a phenomenal sporting event live on ITV. It was spell-binding television with a sensational climax and it capped seven weeks of brilliant live rugby action."

He added: "The event has been a huge success for ITV in terms of the viewing figures, the nature of the audience that has watched the output and the production itself."

Although the audiences are not as high as those for other sporting events such as football, which can draw over 20m viewers, the quality of the audience is believed to be high, as it is dominated by ABC1 males.

ITV spent £40m on acquiring the rights to the rugby World Cup, which has more than paid off in what is being seen as the most successful tournament in the sport to date.

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