France 27-13 New Zealand
STADE DE FRANCE — France lit the blue touch paper on their Rugby World Cup campaign as they ground out a 27-13 victory over New Zealand at a packed Stade de France, inflicting on the All Blacks their first-ever defeat in the pool stages.
Les Bleus had started Friday as joint-favourites to win their maiden Webb Ellis Cup but the hosts are now out on their own after their second consecutive victory over New Zealand.
Mark Telea had twice given the three-time world champions the lead with a try at the beginning of a half, first after just 93 seconds and then in the 43rd minute.
However, the boot of Thomas Ramos kept France close and the finishing ability of Damian Penaud earned Les Bleus a six-point lead going into the final 15 minutes that New Zealand could not make a dent in, and when the ball bounced kindly for Melvyn Jaminet, it was the icing on the cake to delight almost every single one of the 78,690 fans inside the stadium.
A nightmare start, a dream ending
This was set up for France in every way. This was the game Fabien Galthie reportedly asked for as the opener three years ago when New Zealand landed in France’s group.
Then New Zealand suffered their record defeat two weeks before the tournament, and minutes before kick-off, lost captain Sam Cane to injury.
There was the odd fly in the ointment: a defeat to Scotland in the summer, losing Romain Ntamack to a knee injury, but nothing this French team could not handle. They still had Antoine Dupont, undisputed best player in the world, and Ntamack’s replacement Matthieu Jalibert would start for many teams at fly-half.
All those years of planning and preparation, and it took less than 100 seconds to fall apart. A fine line-break by Rieko Ioane off New Zealand’s first line-out pinned France in the right corner and a Beauden Barrett cross-field kick exposed them in the other one, Telea calmly waiting for the bounce of the ball before touching down, his fourth try in only his sixth cap.
After a version of La Marseillaise that was far more raucous than tuneful, the French crowd were quickly silenced, only reawakening after 16 minutes when Peato Mauvaka, an early replacement for the crestfallen Julien Marchand, made a break down the left wing and, ambitiously for a hooker, chipped the ball over Richie Mo’unga. It came to nought but reminded those watching that they were only two points behind.
And soon enough they were ahead, as Uini Atonio’s scrummaging skills twice drew Jaco Peyper’s whistle against Ethan de Groot and Ramos did the rest. He did produce an uncharacteristic miss would have given France a four-point cushion at the break but as it was, they led by just one. All the stats beyond the score suggested they were fortunate: New Zealand had beaten 22 defenders to France’s three and carried for 378 metres to France’s 184. And the Kiwis, without arguably the best flanker of this generation in Cane, had managed just fine without him.
“The All Blacks will be pretty happy, they are a team which don’t need to worry about depth,” said former New Zealand fly-half Andrew Mertens.
“Competition for places is one thing but being able to cover for injuries is another.
“They will be really encouraged by the go-forward they are getting from their forwards which they didn’t get against South Africa.”
It was hard to forget that this was a team who had lost by 28 points last time out given the confidence shown in attack – but the ability of the New Zealand backs has never really been in question, and so it proved when Ioane picked out Telea again with a very flat – the French crowd thought forward – pass to send him away for a second try.
The French thought they had their own winger in the corner when a Jalibert kick-pass found Penaud 10 minutes later, only for Richie Mo’unga to track across to the corner flag and force the ball loose in what is already one of the tackles of the tournament.
But Penaud was not to be denied his 30th international try for long, Jalibert this time supply with his hands, timing the pass perfectly after drawing all the defensive fire inside for Penaud to fall over the line with ease.
Just as New Zealand had taken the wind out of the French crowd in the early stages, so Penaud’s try did to them, and the physicality of France’s bench was enough to snuff out the game.
Even the last try, Jaminet capitalising on Maxime Lucu’s kick over the top bouncing horribly for the All Blacks, came from another fine turnover at the breakdown and while 27-13 felt harsh on the Kiwis, it was no less than France deserved for a night when, for once, their substance outweighed their style.