Canon Rugby In Focus: The first major skirmish of the World Cup saw the All Blacks dismiss concerns they might be off the pace. The same couldn’t be said for Spark Sport.

Two important World Cup contests played out on Saturday night; one of which has consequences not just for this tournament in Japan, but possibly the next one in France, too.

On the field, the All Blacks have secured top place in their pool with the 23-13 win against old rivals South Africa, with only an upset of Goliath proportions against Canada, Namibia or Italy able to change that.

In our homes, Sky Sport’s new rival Spark Sport fumbled the ball when it announced TVNZ’s Duke would show the second half of the match live because of problems with the quality of its stream.

It knocked the ball on the next day, too, when it confirmed Sunday’s games would also be shown on Duke so “customers can have full confidence they will be able to enjoy the matches”.

That’s as good giving the ball to the opposition and letting them run in, untouched, to score between the posts.

This came after Spark Sport’s Andrew Pirie told me on radio they had failed their customers, many of whom had paid extra to upgrade to fibre and bought new TVs or devices needed to stream the World Cup.

“This is not a great experience for us,” Pirie said. “But more importantly it’s not a great experience for our customers. These things are never a good look.”

All this while Sky sat on the sideline, not needing to take the field to win in the reputation stakes, with many on social media, and on talkback radio to me, bemoaning World Rugby’s decision to sell the rights to Spark.

It’s important to note here that I contract to Sky as a producer, panel guest and occasional commentator.

Equally, I have said streaming of live sport is the future, that someone had to be first and that mistakes will be made.

But this is the World Cup – the biggest rugby stage there is. And just as we except an impossible perfection from the All Blacks, so too do we feel the match broadcast should be of the highest quality.

In that regard, Spark failed when they passed the ball to TVNZ at halftime.

It’s like if the All Blacks had let South Africa back into the match after their two-try blitz had given them a 17-3 lead at the break.

None of the good work from the first half would’ve mattered had the All Blacks lost.

If Spark was the All Blacks, then Saturday night was Perth and the loss to Australia.

Spark’s Pirie told me the issues were caused by the international feed – which seems odd as domestically there was a wide range of experiences, from those who had a perfect feed to others who described it as awful.

Pirie also claimed the problems were confined to only a minority of customers but admitted that still wasn’t good enough. Refunds would be offered.

He also admitted those of us watching in our homes should have been told much earlier that the game could be viewed live on Duke.

He said texting customers wasn’t an option, yet callers to my radio show said they often received Spark texts, so that option does seem to exist.

What happens from here will be fascinating as Sky and Spark square off for the rights to the next World Cup, and to New Zealand Rugby’s offerings of tests, Super Rugby and domestic games.

Spark’s next move could be crucial. They have suffered the sort of hit the Springboks’ blitz put on the All Blacks in the first 20 minutes in Yokohama, and that the ABs returned fire with as the game progressed.

Sky can do nothing to improve their case as they sit on the sidelines but, to date, that has worked in their favour.

Unlike Spark, at least the All Blacks got the job done on Saturday night.

The win was a victory for Hansen’s tactics, and in particular his ability to thwart South Africa’s rush defence.

There was also reward for faith in his dual playmaker role as Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett both impressed.

Hansen will also be pleased for his rookie wings Sevu Reece and George Bridge who, after some early nerves, settled into their roles superbly.

There were some wobbles in the scrums that the likes of England, Ireland and Wales will have noted, but that trio should also worry about the pace, vision, skill and relentlessness of the All Blacks’ game.

Ardie Savea personifies all of that.

He is punishing on defence, has a huge workload, is impressive at the breakdown and even more so with the ball.

If there is a better loose forward in the world right now I’d like to see him play. How he wasn’t named man of the match is baffling.

Scott Barrett wasn’t far behind Savea in the impressive stakes with some mighty tackles and a big work rate.

Much is made, quite rightly, of Brodie Retallick’s status as the world’s best lock, but the All Blacks lose little when Barrett and Sam Whitelock pair up.

This was an important win for the All Blacks. It was a statement to those who have dismissed their quality that they are as deluded as those who had full faith in New Zealand’s first effort to stream sport on a significant basis (yes, I know, it has been done for other sports but not at this level).

It was a performance that suggests it will take a mighty effort by whoever they meet in the quarters and semifinals to stop them reaching the final.

And, even though there is plenty of rugby to be played, it was a win that says a three-peat of World Cup titles should now be everyone’s favoured option.

As to how Kiwis will watch the rest of this World Cup and major sporting events in the future, well, we won’t get an idea about that till Spark decide if they want to pick up the ball and run with it again.

The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.

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