• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ
Photo/Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup is make-or-break time for Spark

It will be bad enough if the All Blacks don’t win the Rugby World Cup, but even worse if we miss the spectacle.

It’s rugby, Jim, but not as we know it. If New Zealanders want to see all games of the Rugby World Cup 2019 (TVNZ 1, Friday, 9.30pm), they’re going to need a fast internet connection and a subscription to Spark Sport.

Perhaps it’s not such a big leap. It was reported last year that nearly two million Kiwis have Netflix in their household, with Lightbox available to about 830,000 people. Amazon Prime Video is already here, with Apple TV+ and Disney+ launching towards the end of the year. There are also more specific offerings such as DocPlay and Stuff Pix.

Anyone with teenagers will know that young people do not watch “linear” television any more, preferring their computers or cellphones. On-demand TV via the internet is, basically, the future.

But the simple fact is that not everyone has a banging internet connection and can afford subscription fees. In addition, there are about 40,000 rural households that don’t have a fast enough connection.

Read more: All the ways to watch the Rugby World Cup 2019

Happily, TVNZ will be screening 12 games free-to-air, seven of them live, including Friday’s opening match and the final, which of course will feature the All Blacks crushing their opponents in a glorious threepeat. In a surprise announcement in July, Spark and Sky TV announced that there would be a pop-up channel on the Sky decoder for pubs and clubs (see page 42 for more information).

If it seems as if the entry of Spark Sport has complicated the sports landscape, we’d better get used to it. At the same time as it announced it had secured the rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Spark revealed it also had the rights to the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 as well as Rugby World Cup Sevens and World Rugby U20 championships. Last year, it secured the rights to English Premier League football for three years.

The switch to Spark Sport means a holiday for Sky’s usual commentary team, too. The presenting team in Japan will be led by Scotty Stevenson, with former All Blacks Stephen Donald, Keven Mealamu and Conrad Smith in the line-up.

Sir Graham Henry, Black Fern Kristina Sue, reporter Kimberlee Downs, former All Black Tamati Ellison, Sky UK rugby presenter James Gemmell, Super Rugby’s Isa Nacewa and All Black Damian McKenzie are there, too. Reportedly, Anika Moa will conduct interviews with the All Blacks, which could be interesting.

TVNZ’s coverage begins with the opening ceremony, followed by Japan v Russia at Tokyo Stadium. The full schedule for the 48 Rugby World Cup games is on the internet.

This article was first published in the September 14, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.