Review: TV3's Rugby World Cup coverage

By Janetta Mackay

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What: TV3's Rugby World Cup
Reviewer: Janetta Mackay

TV3 faced a bigger test from New Zealand rugby fans this weekend than did the All Blacks in their Rugby World Cup opening game.

A bit like the Italians, TV3 was on a hiding to nothing, but with more at stake. The Azzurri can redeem themselves in pool games, but TV3 had its sporting credibility on the line in front of the world's toughest home crowd. For the ABs it was an early gallop to victory, for TV3 a staccato satellite connection - was that a skip pass, or a moment lost in space - made for a rockier opening passage of play.

But the picture settled and back home on the couch we soon knew we were in safe hands.

Maybe that was because the TV3 format owed plenty to that used by Sky: a main commentator, an informed offsider, some expert analysis and a perky chap on the sidelines.

The Earnest One role goes to Grant Fox standing in for Grant Nisbet, but with the credibility of knowing the game inside out and the good humour to mock himself over predictions gone awry.

The role of Enthusiastic One is obviously being played by Hamish McKay rather than the equally excitable Tony Johnson.

Every squad needs a cheerleader, but it's a gamble making them the main man, so TV3 is sensibly giving plenty of air-time to McKay's offsiders.

For expert analysis they've brought in former All Black Alan Whetton where Sky uses fellow former World Cup forward John Drake. AJ's insights are useful and to the point.

The Ian Smith sideline role was engagingly filled by Andrew Mehrtens. In true Mehrts style he went awol on the odd pass for comment, but his cheeky interjections and after-match interviews promise to be one of the stronger suits of the coverage.

Unlike Smith, and nearly every other "interviewer' with a mike, he actually let the players answer his questions, rather than give them the answer and interrupt if they more than grunted back a facsimile reply.

TV3's bringing in newsreader Mike McRoberts to host the over-all coverage from Paris is a canny move, providing credibility and a friendly face. Liked the rooftop view of the Arc de Triomphe and good to see McRoberts get an overseas assignment where he wasn't wearing a flak jacket.

Less convincing are the interludes with Brooke Howard-Smith clowning about, but this sort of stuff fills in the time until kick-off for fans with nothing better to do than fill up on the sponsor's product.

Of course, there was the odd glitch during game time. The message - take note too Luke McAllister - is keep it simple: decide where the action is heading and whose turn it is to talk next and don't second guess the obvious.

So no Hamish, it wasn't Isaia Toeava who touched down, we could all see it was Howlett and yes, Sitiveni Sivivatu was taken out ahead of the Italians' disallowed third try. But all in all, McKay's over-eager puppy act, which can get a bit tiresome on the sports news, has clearly been coached out of him while still leaving his commentary with a bit of character. We could have lived without hearing who made the suits though. That's what the credits are for, surely.

The new outfit and their fresh faces - recent All Black James Ryan for instance - made a show not unlike the All Blacks. Satisfying, but plenty of tests ahead.

Camera work in the games so far has been good, with nice closeups and a good down-field view of tries. One irritant is the disconcerting use of the score box at the top-left of the screen to show other match statistics from time to time. Where did that lead go?

Still it's good to see scores outdo the penalty count at this early stage of the tournament.

So far it's game on at TV3, in what's a big investment for the network, launching its new breakfast TV off the back of its rugby coverage.

TVNZ and Sky have a true competitor.

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