France won the opening game of the 2023 Rugby World Cup on Friday, defeating fellow tournament favorites New Zealand 27-13.
In the fiercely contested match in Paris, Damian Penaud’s second-half try triggered a second-half French scoring spree, while Thomas Ramos scored five penalties with his boot.
New Zealand winger Mark Telea scored twice, once in each half, but it wasn’t enough as Melvyn Jaminet’s late touchdown clinched the victory and handed France the perfect start to their World Cup campaign.
“We were expecting tough competition, and it was a huge game.” “I’m proud to be French tonight,” Gregory Alldritt of France said afterwards.
“It’s a fantastic night for us… We are no longer champions. We must proceed cautiously.”
France will play Uruguay in Lille next, while New Zealand will play Namibia in Toulouse for its first points of the tournament.
A late show
It was evident that a Rugby World Cup was taking place in Paris hours before kickoff. The prospect to see two of rugby’s greatest teams go toe-to-toe was especially appealing for fans inside the Stade de France, resulting in an explosive environment.
The atmosphere was only amplified shortly before kickoff, when the All Blacks performed their famous Haka, with an entranced Stade de France erupting in cheers at the end.
However, New Zealand got off to the perfect start within the first two minutes, with some aggressive pressure resulting in Beuden Barrett’s magnificent cross-field kick being collected by Telea on the wing to tap down and open the score after only 93 seconds.
Just minutes later, Ramos’ penalty put the hosts within touching distance, and after some intense back-and-forth between two of rugby’s finest sides, France took the lead for the first time midway through the first half with another Ramos penalty.
Richie Mo’unga’s penalty gave New Zealand a sliver of a lead before the players took a well-deserved water break in the sweltering Paris heat.
Ramos completed his hat trick of penalties midway through the half, slamming home from the halfway line to give France the lead once more.
It was nearly a mirror image of the first half following a halftime break, with New Zealand scoring a try within minutes when Telea touched down to cap off a sweeping move from one end of the pitch to the other.
A fast break set Penaud free down the wing and it looked like he was going to score, only for New Zealand’s flyhalf Mo’unga to appear out of nowhere and remove the ball with a try-saving intervention.
However, France did find the breakthrough following prolonged pressure, with Penaud touching down as Les Bleus retook the lead.
With the clock ticking down and New Zealand down on the scoreboard, Will Jordan was penalized for an in-air contact with a French player, earning him a yellow card and a 10-minute sin bin from referee Jaco Peyper.
France capitalized on its man advantage, with Ramos converting his fourth penalty of the game from close range to increase its lead to six points.
And, despite its best efforts to claw its way back into the game, Ramos’ fifth penalty of the game made it a two-score game and effectively sealed the outcome. If you want you can also read – Spain Win First FIFA Women’s World Cup: A Record breaking Tournament Ever.
Jaminet’s late attempt, which came as a result of several fortunate bounces, sent the home fans wild as they were finally allowed to enjoy a significant victory, one that almost likely guarantees them a favorable draw in the next round of the tournament.
New Zealand, on the other hand, will have to work hard if it wants to win a fourth World Cup, as the defeat means it will finish second in Pool A behind France, barring any surprises, and will face the winner of Pool B, which will be one of South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Tonga, or Romania.