Rugby-World Cup Gets Paris Lift-off with Joyous French Victory over All Blacks

REUTERS/Abdul Saboor
Paris, France – September 8, 2023 France fans celebrate after watching the match outside a bar in Paris

PARIS, Sept 8 (Reuters) – A packed Stade de France rocked with Gallic joy long into the sweltering night on Friday as France launched the 2023 Rugby World Cup with a 27-13 triumph over New Zealand to flex their credentials as a strong tournament favourite.

The All Blacks suffered a first pool stage defeat at a World Cup, but there had been nothing they could do to repel an irresistible French team playing with style, intelligence and thunderous power.

For a party six years in the making, it had taken the All Blacks just 94 seconds to turn on the lights and kill the music – a Mark Telea try in the second minute proving the ultimate, if only temporary, buzz-kill.

France were not to be denied, though, and gave this blockbuster opening match the treatment it richly deserved.

“It was the worst possible scenario,” France coach Fabien Galthie said, looking cool in trademark black suit and tie with matching statement glasses. “But then we took back control.”

With the French capital seething in a September heatwave, tens of thousands of French fans flocked to the national stadium north of Paris — many dressed as roosters and many more sporting berets.

As the mercury dropped only slightly from a daytime 34 degrees Celsius, the tournament opened with a lively ceremony featuring actors, dancers and acrobats playing out every light-hearted French cliche in a Jacques Tati-style production.

By the time the 80,000-strong crowd had belted out an ear-ringing rendition of La Marseillaise, the stadium was at fever-pitch as the players entered the arena.

While Telea’s early try temporarily sucked the breath out of the passionate Paris crowd, Galthie has built steel into this stylish French squad and through the metronomic boot of Thomas Ramos they hauled themselves ahead by the break with a slender 9-8 lead which had been against the first half’s run of play.

There was no jeopardy to add spice to the clash – both countries are fully expected to advance from Pool A – but added seasoning was not needed in a full-blooded clash between two of the sport’s biggest guns.


France flooded out for the second half and started it at breathtaking pace. In a virtual repeat of the first period, Telea struck again two minutes in to restore New Zealand’s lead but from that point it was all France.

Second-half tries by Damian Penaud and Melvyn Jaminet put the result beyond doubt.

“The team will look into what they can improve, but as supporters we are just happy,” former France half-back Frederic Michalak said. “Beating the All Blacks in the World Cup opener makes it all even better.”

Ramos’s wife Sophie was grinning from ear to ear. “We came with the family. It’s a dream — we’re all happy to be here,” she told local television. “I saw in his look that he was living a dream.”

While Champagne corks popped all over France, a question mark looms over the mighty All Blacks for whom this was a second successive defeat following their 35-7 thrashing at the hands of South Africa last month.

Losing captain Sam Cane before the game to injury cannot have helped and their next match against Namibia next Friday is unlikely to reveal much, but the three-time champions’ aura has been dented.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster was sanguine. “It doesn’t change much for us, we just have to find another way out of this pool,” he said.

France, on the other hand, will next face Uruguay in Lille on Thursday with an even bigger spring in their step.

There is a long way to go and much still to do, but the French could hardly have opened their campaign in better fashion as they seek a first World Cup triumph.