France 27-13 New Zealand: Hosts start competition with hard-fought victory in battle of the favourites as All Blacks lose Pool game for the first time ever
- France started slow as New Zealand took the lead with a try inside two minutes
- Mark Telea scored twice but Damian Penaud’s try helped the hosts pull ahead
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They booed their President with gusto here, then roared their nervous team to victory as France launched this home World Cup by condemning New Zealand to a first ever pool-stage defeat.
Emmanuel Macron was greeted with noisy disdain when he addressed the crowd after a raucous tournament opening ceremony, but what followed was a cacophonous out-pouring of Gallic pride and outrage.
The pride was for their players – who needed the support to recover from a misfiring first half – and the outrage was directed towards referee Jaco Peyper, who replaced Macron as the crowd’s pantomime villain with a series of close calls in New Zealand’s favour.
Before it all came together and they produced a dazzling late flourish, France laboured for so long to take advantage of their supremacy in much of the battle up front.
Mark Telea’s two tries propelled the All Blacks towards a win which would have spoiled the big launch party, but Fabien Galthie’s home side belatedly grew into the game and Damian Penaud’s second-half try gave them the impetus to ignite their campaign with a prized scalp.
Damian Penaud (right) scored the decisive try for France after coming close moments earlier
Melvyn Jaminet (centre) pounced on an awkward bounce to secure the points with minutes remaining in the game
Mark Telea scored twice for New Zealand, who looked on course for victory until France hit back in the final period
Anticipation levels had been in the stratosphere before kick-off, as fans amassed in searing heat, and in defiance of the usual Parisian transport chaos. But until the closing stages, what they saw was no classic.
It was tense and cagey, with France relying on the boot of Thomas Ramos – who kicked 17 points – before their anxiety faded and their confidence grew. Even the great Antoine Dupont – host-nation captain and poster-boy – was harassed and eclipsed by Aaron Smith, his rival scrum-half.
This result won’t be decisive for either team, as they are both bound to qualify from Pool A, which doesn’t have the tension and jeopardy of Pools C and D.
But France will take heart from how they found a way to win when operating a long way below their best for the majority of this match.
Now they are up and running, they are bound to establish thunderous, winning momentum.
In nine previous World Cups, no other country had ever lowered the colours of the All Blacks in the round-robin phase, so that feat alone was something to cherish.
Man of the Match Gregory Alldritt told ITV: ‘It was a massive game for our team and I am proud to be French tonight.
‘The support was massive. We said if we lost today it is not the end of the World cup. But we are not champion now so we just have to keep working and go step by step.’
Telea’s width proved dangerous in Paris as France struggled to deal with the All Blacks ace
Thomas Ramos’ kicking was solid for France and kept them in touching distance throughout
The pre-match withdrawal of All Black captain Sam Cane, who was injured in the warm-up, created more untimely disruption for Ian Foster’s side, who were already having to cope without influential centre Jordie Barrett.
But France weren’t at full-strength either; without Jonathan Danty in midfield, Cyril Baille in the front row, and first-choice 10, Romain Ntamack, who is out of the tournament.
New Zealand came into this match in backlash mode after losing 35-7 to South Africa – the worst result in their glorious oval-ball history. If they were hell-bent on making an early point after that ordeal at Twickenham, they certainly did so, within two minutes.
Rieko Ioane burst clear in midfield from a short pass and when the centre’s run was halted up by the French 22, the visitors maintained their high-tempo raid down the right.
After Smith took a quick tap penalty and was stopped just short, the ball came back to Beauden Barrett, he kicked to the far flank and Telea took it on the bounce to score.
It was some opening salvo. The crowd were stunned into near-silence, but after Richie Mo’unga missed the wide conversion, the noise soon returned.
There was acclaim for Ramos – as his kicks allowed France to find their feet, vocal encouragement for the Gallic heroes who were struggling for accuracy and fluency, and scorn aimed at Peyper, as every marginal decision appeared to go the way of the Kiwis.
The French went into the break 9-8 ahead, which was scarcely deserved at the time, but Galthie’s men came alive in attack at the start of the second half – not before time. The home side finally achieved some continuity through the phases, but the All Blacks held on under pressure and bounced back to strike again, in controversial fashion.
It was all smiles at the end of the game for France, who are now surely favourites for the trophy
Penaud went over minutes after coming within inches of scoring France’s first try of the game
France head coach Fabien Galthie (centre) congratulated his players after the final whistle
In the 44th minute, New Zealand were in possession near halfway and No 8 Ardie Savea, of all people, sent over a deft chip which Will Jordan chased and regathered. He was stopped but his team were not. Ioane hurled a long pass out to Telea and he went over with a diving finish.
Mo’unga couldn’t add the extras from an awkward angle, as French fans vented their fury at Peyper and his assistants. They were overwhelmed by angst and perceived injustice, but their team focused on digging themselves out of a hole.
They did just that. In the 53rd minute, Mo’unga’s desperate cover tackle denied Damian Penaud a try in the right corner, but two minutes later the Clermont Auvergne wing scored, after Matthieu Jalibert jinked into a gap and released him close to the line.
When Jordan was sin-binned for taking out Ramos in the air, it felt as if New Zealand were finished and so it proved. The stars aligned for the French as their full-back landed two late penalties before his replacement, Melvyn Jaminet, pounced on a helpful bounce from a box-kick to score a try with two minutes left.
The Gallic juggernaut is rolling. The carnival has begun.
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