French beat Kiwis in Opening the Rugby world Cup in France

Robert Kitson, in The Guardian, 9 September 2023, whee the title reads Penaud inspires France to winning start at Rugby World Cup against All Blacks”

France’s number eight Gregory Alldritt (R) and France’s scrum-half and captain Antoine Dupont (L) celebrate winning a penalty during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris on September 8, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Rugby World Cups are not won or lost on the tournament’s first night but the opening fixture can often set the tone. On a sweltering evening in Saint-Denis, this was a game played in the most electric of sporting atmospheres, an early clue as to what awaits in the knockout stages. If crowds are half as enthusiastic as this for the entire competition, it is going to be a truly thunderous event.

From the giant golden Eiffel Tower on the pitch to the euphoric scenes inside and outside the stadium before kick-off, the whole occasion was a further illustration of just how much support the hosts will enjoy in the weeks ahead. The crowd did boo the French president, Emmanuel Macron, but their booming rendition of La Marseillaise was completely off the scale.

And the game? France will be relieved to claim the initial spoils but, despite the comfortable-looking scoreline, will know they can perform appreciably better. This is going to be the most competitive World Cup of them all and here, for the most part, was early confirmation. While France emerged triumphant through second-half tries from Damian Penaud and replacement Melvyn Jaminet plus the prolific boot of Thomas Ramos, it took a long time for them to break down a spirited All Black side.

With temperatures close to 30C throughout and Will Jordan sent to the sin-bin at a crucial moment for a misjudged aerial challenge, it was also an uncomfortable night for the visiting team by the end. Ramos finished with 17 points from five penalties and a conversion, with New Zealand’s rangy winger Mark Telea contributing a well-taken try in each half.

It was not enough to prevent New Zealand from suffering the first World Cup pool defeat in their history, ending a run of 31 successive wins and involving an even wider margin than their fabled 43-31 semi-final loss to France at Twickenham way back in 1999. These days, though, it would increasingly appear that Les Bleus have their number. “Playing France here in the opening game was pretty special but they were just a bit too good,” said the head coach, Ian Foster.

If it did not help that New Zealand’s captain, Sam Cane, was a late injury withdrawal with a bad back, prompting a reshuffle in the back row, New Zealand’s attacking fluency was ultimately insufficient to trump France’s long kicking game and ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Even without the injured Romain Ntamack, Paul Willemse, Cyril Baille and Jonathan Danty, they also still had the masterful Antoine Dupont, so relaxed before kick-off there was footage on French television of him snoozing on the team bus as it headed to the ground.

Melvyn Jaminet pounces on a loose ball before scoring France’s second try late on.
Melvyn Jaminet pounces on a loose ball before scoring France’s second try late on. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Maybe the extreme heat made him drowsy. It was certainly hot enough to be concerned for the wellbeing of the jacketed extras and acrobats involved in an energetic opening ceremony. World Rugby had officially confirmed an extra permitted water break for the players per half, with additional water and cold towels also provided. You don’t need too many of the latter in New Zealand’s South Island at this time of year.

Initially, though, it was the All Blacks who looked the sharper, having delivered the throat-slitting version of the haka they reserve for special occasions. With advantage already being played, Beauden Barrett’s cross-kick found grass wide on the left and Telea had enough time to collect and touch down. France responded swiftly with a first Ramos penalty but a forward pass here and a knock-on there slowed the tempo of the game, possibly to the relief of one or two bigger forwards.

While the Gallic script also did not involve the home hooker Julien Marchand leaving the fray after just 12 minutes, France went ahead for the first time at the end of the first quarter when Ramos knocked over a second nerveless penalty. Their advantage did not last long, with Richie Mo’unga landing a straightforward penalty after a spell of All Black pressure.

France, though, had a couple of significant weapons available. Ramos’s boot was one of them, the full-back knocking over a third sweet penalty from the halfway line, and there were early signs of pressure on the All Black front row. While Ramos did miss an angled chance to extend the half-time margin, Les Bleus looked pretty assured with and without the ball.


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One response to “French beat Kiwis in Opening the Rugby world Cup in France


    Always lovely to read and enjoy my “nostalgia” for the land of my birth. Reminiscing in my mind the beautiful happy years with my Dad & Mum and siblings Robert;(Robin) my twin Tony & Alexander & Marion (our late lovely sister). Thanks for the interesting articles….Chris

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