Hosts France won the opening game of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, beating fellow tournament favorites New Zealand 27-13 on Friday.
Damian Penaud’s second half try sparked a second half French scoring flurry in the hotly-contested clash in Paris, while Thomas Ramos added five penalties with his boot.
New Zealand winger Mark Telea scored twice, both times in the first few minutes of each half, but it wasn’t enough as Melvyn Jaminet’s late try sealed the win and gave France the perfect beginning to its World Cup campaign.
“We were expecting really hard opposition and it was a massive game. I’m proud to be French tonight,” France’s Gregory Alldritt said afterwards.
“It’s a great night for us … We are not champions now. We need go step by step.”
France next plays Uruguay in Lille while New Zealand attempts to claim its first points of the tournament as it takes on Namibia in Toulouse.
A late show
From hours before kick off, it was obvious there was a Rugby World Cup in town in Paris. And in particular, for those inside the Stade de France, the chance of watching two of rugby’s great teams do battle was an enticing one, leading to an electric atmosphere.
The atmosphere was only heightened in the moments before kickoff, with the All Blacks performing their traditional Haka, an enraptured Stade de France exploding in applause upon its conclusion.
However, it was New Zealand who got off to the perfect start within the opening two minutes, some attacking pressure resulting in Beuden Barrett’s beautiful cross-field kick being gathered by Telea on the wing to touch down and open the scoring with a try after just 93 seconds.
A penalty from Ramos got the hosts back within touching distance just minutes later and after some ferocious to-and-fro between two of rugby’s elite teams, France got itself ahead for the first time midway through the first half with another Ramos penalty.
Richie Mo’unga’s penalty handed New Zealand a slender lead once again before the players got a well-earned water break in the searing Paris heat.
Ramos got his hat trick of penalties midway through the half, blasting home from the halfway line as France once again regained the lead.
After a halftime break – with the players recuperating after a sapping first half – it was almost a mirror image of the first, with New Zealand scoring a try within just minutes as Telea once again touched down to cap off a sweeping move from one end of the pitch to the other.
In a moment of excellent rugby though, a quick break set Penaud free down the wing and it looked for all the world like he would score, only for New Zealand’s flyhalf Mo’unga to come out of nowhere and dislodge the ball with a try-saving intervention.
However, just minutes later, France did find the breakthrough after some sustained pressure, Penaud touching down as Les Bleus retook the lead.
With time ticking away and behind on the scoreboard, New Zealand pushed to assert some pressure but it proved too much as Will Jordan was penalized for an in-air collision with a French player resulting in a yellow card from referee Jaco Peyper and a 10-minute sin bin.
France made the man advantage count, Ramos scoring his fourth penalty of the game from close range to extend the lead to six points.
And try as it might to push for a route back into the game, Ramos’ fifth penalty of the game made it a two-score match and effectively wrapped up the result.
Jaminet’s late try after some fortuitous bounces sent the home fans wild as they were finally able to celebrate a momentous victory and one which almost certainly assures it of a favorable draw in the next stage of the tournament.
New Zealand on the other hand will have to do it the hard way if it wants to win a fourth World Cup, with the defeat likely meaning it will finish second in Pool A behind France barring any shocks, and as a result playing the winner of Pool B which will be one of South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Tonga or Romania.