France v New Zealand - Teams and Prediction
RWC 2023 OPENER: The wait is finally over and we are now set to witness a humdinger between two giants of the game in Friday’s opening match between hosts France and the All Blacks at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
Both teams are expected to get out of Pool A, which also features Italy, Namibia and Uruguay, but a strong performance and a good result in the opener could set the tone for a successful World Cup campaign.
As hosts and one of the favourites to win the tournament, France will have a big spotlight on them, especially since they came so close to winning it in the past.
They lost in the Final on three occasions – 1987, 1999 and 2011. Two of those Final defeats were against the All Blacks (1987 and 2011).
However, two of their more famous victories on the World Cup stage have come against the men in black.
In 1999, Les Bleus stunned world rugby in an all-time classic when they overturned a 10-24 deficit just after half-time to beat the All Blacks 43-31 in the semifinal.
They did it again eight years later at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff when they edged the All Blacks 20-18 in the quarterfinal stage.
The All Blacks won the next three meetings between the two sides at World Cups, but they don’t seem to be the same beast as they were in previous editions.
Over the last few years, cracks have emerged in their game and they are heading into the tournament after suffering a 7-35 defeat to the Springboks, which was their worst defeat ever.
However, France will not want to fall into a trap by looking at past matches and they will be showing the respect New Zealand deserves.
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“They’re surely the greatest team to see playing. They have made generations dream,” said France captain Antoine Dupont.
“Since the World Cup has existed, they are the team that has made their mark the most with extraordinary players and teams.
“When I was younger, like a lot who are passionate about rugby, I admired the team and their players.
“All the conditions are in place for a great event,” the 26-year-old added.
Dupont believes his squad is handling the pressure of the occasion well as the clock ticks down to the opening match.
“Obviously the closer we get, the more we feel the excitement, the enthusiasm, the fervour,” Dupont said.
“The supporters, the media, social media, we see it everywhere.
“I don’t feel negative pressure in the team.
“I hope we build up little by little and unite as a 23 to get on the field on Friday,” he added.
Meanwhile, France will be without bulldozing centre Jonathan Danty with youngster Yoram Moefana deputising in midfield for Friday’s match.
New Zealand will also be missing their first-choice No.12 with the experienced Anton Lienert-Brown replacing the injured Jordie Barrett.
At the Stade de France, coming up against Dupont, the 2021 World Rugby Player of the Year, will be Aaron Smith winning his 120th Test cap.
“He’s an amazing athlete and an amazing player,” Smith said of Dupont.
“He’s proved that over the last few years with all the awards he’s won.
“Defensively our game has a big eye on Dupont and what he can do, and about shutting that down,” Smith added.
Smith, 34, helped his country to the 2015 World Cup title but was also part of the side to suffer a record defeat to South Africa.
He is expected to retire from Test rugby at the end of the World Cup having also added a host of Bledisloe Cups and Rugby Championships to his trophy haul in a lengthy international career.
“When you get to this part of your career, every day’s a special day and it doesn’t get more special than an All Black at a World Cup,” Smith said.
“For me, when the game got announced – France at home at the Stade de France – I couldn’t help dreaming and visioning being in those moments.
“As a competitor, you want these moments.”
Players to watch
For France: France captain Antoine Dupont is the poster boy for this World Cup and his team relies on him so much for inspiration. He is probably the best player in the world at the moment with his darting runs around the fringes and his speed when it comes to giving his backline some quality service. He is also a key decision-maker around the field and more often than not he makes the correct calls. Flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert will have heaps of pressure on him as he is now the first-choice No.10 after Romain Ntamack was ruled out of the tournament. Jalibert also has a significant attacking edge to his game and he is one of the leading players in the team when it comes to try assists. In the pack, France will have some heavyweights in the form of locks Thibaud Flament and Cameron Woki and loose forwards Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon and Francois Cros. No.8 Alldritt is a powerful ball carrier who always seems to get his team over the advantage line.
For New Zealand: With Jordie Barrett not available because of injury, Anton Lienert-Brown takes centre stage. He has not had a lot of minutes in the midfield for the All Blacks this year, but he still has plenty of experience. A lot of All Black fans are not convinced by some of Richie Mo’unga’s performances in the No.10 jersey. However, one thing that is for sure is that he has plenty of X-factor and if he is given enough time and space, opposition defences will crumble. The French will have world-class loose forwards in their pack and that is why Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (captain) and Dalton Papalai’i will have to make a massive step up, especially at the rucks and breakdowns. The scrumhalf battle will also be intriguing, with the experienced Aaron Smith looking to keep Antoine Dupont in check.
Key RWC info
- This will be only the second time in World Cup history that France and New Zealand have been drawn in the same pool. Six of their seven previous meetings have come in the knock-out stages, with France’s only two victories coming at Twickenham in the 1999 semifinal and Cardiff in the 2007 quarterfinal.
- New Zealand have won all five games when restricting France to fewer than 20 points in the game. France are the only team in RWC history to have scored 20 or more points against the All Blacks on multiple occasions.
- In their eighth World Cup meeting, this becomes the most played fixture in the history of the tournament. There have only been two tournaments where they have never met – in 1991 and 1995.
- France have never led the All Blacks at half-time on any occasion at the World Cup, overcoming a seven-point deficit to win in 1999 and a 10-point deficit in 2007.
- They are the only team in RWC history to have come from behind at half-time to defeat New Zealand.
@rugby365com: France by three points.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Thibaud Flament, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Reda Wardi.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Romain Taofifienua, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Arthur Vincent, 23 Melvyn Jaminet.
All Blacks: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Richie Mo’Unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Dalton Papalai’i, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaai’i, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 David Havili, 23 Leicester Fainga’anuku.
Date: Friday, September 8
Venue: Stade de France, Saint-Denis
Kick-off: 21.15 (19.15 GMT; 07.15 Saturday, September 9 NZ time)
Expected weather: It will be clear with a temperature of around 20°C. There will be a slight breeze.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
Additional reporting: AFP & @WorldRugby