New Zealand rugby fans will have to get their heads around a new way of watching the game during next year's World Cup in Japan, including streaming over the internet rather than traditional or satellite television, plus the likelihood of new commentators.

Both could test the patience of rugby's supporters – many of whom are of a certain age and set in their ways.

The joint announcement by TVNZ and Spark that they have won the broadcasting rights for the seven-week tournament, which runs from September 20 and November 4 next year, includes a statement that TVNZ will screen seven matches free to air, including the opening match between Japan and Romania, plus the final.

But it hasn't committed to showing all of the All Blacks matches. The All Blacks, the winners of the last two tournaments, will play four pool games before a potential quarter-final, semifinal and final if they qualify.


The TVNZ/Spark consortium are apparently obligated to show two quarter-finals and both semifinals live free to air, but it is up to them which quarter-finals they choose. There is little doubt that Sky TV will be watching developments closely as they played all the key All Blacks matches live on Prime in 2015.

Viewers wanting access to all matches in Japan will have to pay a fee which will be set next year and which is likely to be in the vicinity of $100 according to Spark managing director Simon Moutter.

The announcement was today welcomed by New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew, who dismissed concerns that not all in rugby's "heartland" would be able to view the All Blacks tests.

"We've got to wait and see what World Rugby have agreed with the Spark and TVNZ consortium but World Rugby make free to air a contingent provision in all these arrangements, so I'm confident they'll have done a good deal for us, but I don't know the details," Tew said. "Until they're prepared to release them I can't really comment.

"It's the same issue with normal television and satellite television isn't it? Not all of New Zealand gets everything. Everyone's desire here is to get the game in front of as many people as possible. The world's changing isn't it? I had a disrupted journey from the Gold Coast yesterday – I missed the women's [sevens] game live but I managed to watch the last five minutes of the men's game on my phone while we were taxiing … on the plane."

Japan's J Sports is the host broadcaster which will feed back the images to New Zealand where they will be dispersed by TVNZ and Spark.

Spark's coverage will be available to all, and not only their customers. Matches can be bought on an individual or "all-in" basis and can be viewed on laptops, tablets, mobile phones and TVs.

For many New Zealanders, the voices describing the action are just as important as the pictures and another big unknown is who will be selected for that highly-scrutinised and often thankless task.

Veteran broadcaster John McBeth and senior TVNZ sports reporter Andrew Saville commentated the men's and women's sevens finals of the Commonwealth Games on Sunday, broadcast by TVNZ, and both would be in the mix for next year's World Cup.

As Sky employees, traditional rugby commentators Grant Nisbett, Tony Johnson and Scotty Stevenson would be unlikely candidates but J Sports might want to contract them for the world feed.

That was the case for Johnson at the last World Cup in England and Wales in 2015 where he appeared frequently on host broadcaster ITV's feed, with Nisbett commentating the All Blacks tests.

Tew said the New Zealand Rugby was not involved in the broadcast negotiations but had offered "insights" to World Rugby.

He made the point too, that a World Cup broadcasting agreement hasn't been repeated for some time. In 2007, TV3 won the rights. In 2011, it was Maori TV, TVNZ and Sky. In 2015, it was Prime and Sky.

It is, though, a tricky diplomatic path that Tew has to walk. Sky TV are a long-standing broadcasting partner of New Zealand Rugby's and will remain so until at least the end of 2020 when the contract is up for renewal.

"We look forward to continuing to work with them right through to the end of the contract," Tew said.

To get the day's top sports stories in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here