• Rugby

Rugby World Cup: Galthié Urges Existential Approach by France against New Zealand on Opening Night

AP Photo/Thibault Camus
France’s head coach Fabien Galthie attends a press conference to announce the French Rugby World Cup squad in Reuil-Malmaison, outside Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, ahead of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup.

PARIS (AP) — Love. Light. Invisible force.

France — or Jedi? — coach Fabien Galthié got existential about his and his team’s approach to facing New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup blockbuster on Friday.

The massive opening night game features a New Zealand team bidding for a record fourth world title against a spectacular France side gunning for its first after losing three finals.

When he named his team on Wednesday, Galthié cast aside talk about tactics and how to negate the attacking prowess of the All Blacks. Instead, he spoke about freeing up the love among his players while encouraging them to harness unseen energies.

“This match will be a party, a joy, an immense happiness, it’s marvellous. An invisible force needs to be born in these moments,” Galthié said. “The watchword is to play, to enjoy ourselves, to love each other a lot. We’re feeling very light, very happy to play this game.”

Feeling light is not to be confused with taking the All Blacks lightly, something Galthié would never do. With hype around France sky-high, Galthié has been trying to help the players from not feeling overwhelmed by the occasion.

“This match against the All Blacks is a challenge in every part of rugby,” he said. “You need to control the emotions that surround these events. We’ve prepared to be the best we possibly can be in this area.”

Those preparations include the warmup before the match. Constraints put on the teams by the World Cup opening ceremony have shortened the usual amount of time they have on the field.

“World Rugby have given us 23 minutes to prepare,” Galthié said. “Against Australia we did a practice for it, we warmed up in 22 minutes.”

France won that final World Cup warmup by an eye-catching 41-17. Thousands of fans remained at their seats at the Stade de France long after the final whistle to applaud a France team which did a lap of honor led by captain Antoine Dupont, widely regarded as the world’s best player.

“We all have the responsibility to do something big at this World Cup. I’m the captain so maybe people talk about me more, but we all have this ferocious will to write our names (in history),” Dupont said. “We’ve given people hope with the results we’ve had. People are expecting things from us and they want to see us raising the trophy.”

Galthié was the Dupont of his 1990s heyday, a brilliant scrumhalf and captain who became a highly rated club coach. He met Dupont a few years ago and was blown away by Dupont scribbling notes and drawing tactics for two hours while they chatted.

Not one to be overawed, then, but Dupont knows that much of the nation’s hopes rest with him.

“We can feel this fervor and excitement rising, but I don’t feel there is any negative pressure in this team and that’s a good thing,” he said. He echoed Galthié’s mantra. “We need to take only the positive energies away from this famous pressure. We have to stay natural while remaining serious and rigorous.”

Coach and captain are in harmony and shared a laugh at the team announcement, where they were sat together.

When Dupont was asked how France was bracing to prepare for the intensity of the opening exchanges against the All Blacks, he grinned. “I would hope it’s only the first 10-15 minutes that are difficult, but I think the whole match will be! They hardly have any weaknesses and are consistent in every aspect of the game. They can turn things around at any time.”

He was a teen in 2011 when France last reached the World Cup final. The All Blacks prevailed in that one at Eden Park.

“When I was young I admired this team,” he said. “It’s the best team to face, one that has made generations and generations dream.”

Now it’s Dupont’s time to dream big at Stade de France on Friday, when he will mark his 50th cap.