France has toppled New Zealand in the opening match of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with the hosts claiming a tense 27-13 victory in Paris.
The lead was exchanged five throughout the topsy-turvy contest before France, supported by a passionate home crowd at Stade de France, charged ahead in the final 20 minutes, getting their campaign off to a flyer. It marks the first time New Zealand has lost a pool match in World Cup history.
“It was very back-and-forth, but in that last 20 (minutes) our discipline let us down and we weren’t clinical enough in our own half, and they punished us,” All Blacks captain Ardie Savea said after the defeat.
“We just let ourselves down … we lost a battle tonight, but we still have a war to win.”
MATCH CENTRE: France vs New Zealand score
The ill-disciplined All Blacks looked dangerous throughout the first half, but sloppy unforced errors kept France within touching distance. Both sides scored twice in the tournament opener, including a double for Kiwi winger Mark Telea, but French fullback Thomas Ramos, who finished with 19 points off the boot, punished the error-ridden All Blacks.
A second-half yellow card for Will Jordan put New Zealand on the back foot, and a late try for French reserve back Melvyn Jaminet sealed the historic victory for Les Bleus, ending the All Blacks’ run of 31 consecutive World Cup wins in the pool stage.
“A really, really tough game,” player of the match Gregory Alldritt said after the 14-point triumph.
“It has been a massive game for our team. I am proud to be French tonight.
“We said the team that is going to win is going to play 80 minutes, and I think we played 80 minutes tonight. It was a great night for us.”
New Zealand, who lost skipper Sam Cane to injury just before kick-off, got their Rugby World Cup campaign off to a dream start. All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane silenced the vocal home crowd with an early linebreak, and fullback Beauden Barrett’s gorgeous cross-field kick found Telea on the left wing, albeit with a lucky bounce.
Telea scored near the corner flag in the second minute, but flyhalf Richie Mo’unga missed the conversion kick from near the touchline.
France returned serve almost immediately, awarded a breakdown penalty in the fifth minute and reducing the deficit to just two points.
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NZ STUN France with emphatic opener! | 00:45
However, the hosts were dealt a devastating blow a few minutes later when hooker Julien Marchand limped off with an injury, replaced by Peato Mauvaka.
Both sides botched early kicks for touch, but France took the lead in the 20th minute after fullback Ramos slotted another penalty kick, awarded following a scrum infringement.
After a lengthy series of pick-and-drives on the opposition tryline, the All Blacks begrudgingly accepted a close-range penalty kick in the 26th minute, again edging ahead on the scoreboard.
The All Blacks front row was pinged yet again for collapsing the scrum, and Ramos nailed his third three-pointer from the halfway line to put France ahead. However, the 28-year-old missed an opportunity to extend France’s lead a few minutes later, with his fourth attempt sailing left of the sticks.
Discipline remained a problem for New Zealand ahead of halftime, with a couple of knock-ons and wayward passes frustrating the Kiwis.
However, the All Blacks reclaimed the lead early in the second term, with Telea scoring his second try in the left corner after a clever chip kick from Ardie Savea and a wide pass from Mo’unga, which many French players thought floated forward. The crowd agreed.
French winger Damian Penaud seemingly scored in the right corner after recovering a bouncing ball in the 53rd minute, only for a desperate try-saving effort from Mo’unga to deny the hosts their first five-pointer of the tournament.
But the French only had to wait a few minutes for their opening try, with flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert setting up Penaud on the right wing — Ramos nailed the conversion from the touchline.
The All Blacks were suddenly down to 14 men after Jordan was shown a yellow card for taking out a player in the air, with Ramos missing a crucial penalty kick moments later.
France’s lead grew to six points after the hosts were awarded yet another penalty in the 65th minute, on this occasion for not rolling away in the ruck.
In the 74th minute, the French were granted an umpteenth penalty within kicking range after New Zealand took out another player in the air, all but sealing the victory for the hosts.
France rubbed salt into the wounds with a late try — Gael Fickou’s high kick bounced fortuitously near the All Blacks tryline, with Jaminet collecting the ball and charging over.
“They’re the real deal,” former Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said on Stan Sport.
“They have done it with pressure on and they have come out and done it against one of the best teams in the world.”
France will next face Uruguay on Friday AEST, while New Zealand takes on Namibia the following morning.
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