PARIS (AP) — France’s players embarked on a lap of honor at Stade de France after ending New Zealand’s unbeaten run in the Rugby World Cup pool stage by 27-13 on Friday.
Following a rousing opening ceremony that showcased French culture, the vaunted French team achieved a statement win against the three-time champion All Blacks. A first World Cup title looked within reach after lighting up its home tournament on a sweltering opening night.
“The fact is they had won all of their 31 (previous) pool games,” France coach Fabien Galthié said. “We’ve ticked a box.”
France’s second straight victory against New Zealand at Stade de France, two years apart, also inflicted a second straight defeat on the All Blacks in two weeks.
“It’s incredible to think that you’ve put nearly 30 points on the All Blacks,” said France captain Antoine Dupont, who had a relatively quiet 50th test. “We have gained a collective confidence.”
But France had to overcome conceding tries at the start of each half in an intense contest.
Prolific right winger Damian Penaud’s try 15 minutes into the second half regained France the lead it never let go. Fullback Thomas Ramos punished All Blacks errors from the tee. He finished with 17 points from six of eight goalkicks.
Mark Telea scored after just 93 seconds to give New Zealand a stunning start at Stade de France, and then again three minutes into the second half.
But Penaud’s try and Ramos’ accurate boot took the score out of reach of New Zealand, and France finished with an opportunist try by replacement Melvyn Jaminet to pad the scoreline and feed the belief that Galthié’s side has real hope of raising the trophy aloft after losing three finals.
France did a lap of honor to thumping music after stretching its home winning streak to 15 games. The crowd lapped it up, and when Dupont finished media commitments and did a lap on his own, the crowd noise cranked up another level.
“The fans were extraordinary,” Penaud said.
No. 8 Grégory Alldritt cautioned against getting carried away, however.
“We are not champions now,” he said.
Both sides coped with injury.
All Blacks captain Sam Cane withdrew shortly before kickoff, while France hooker Julien Marchand lasted 12 minutes before going off with a left thigh tear. Galthié did not elaborate. New Zealand counterpart Ian Foster said Cane “put his back out” on Thursday afternoon but it was “not too serious.”
Foster rued missed opportunities, especially in a first half they dominated.
“We fired some good bullets at them but it wasn’t enough,” he said. “It was a see-sawing game, but you’ve got to take your hat off to them. In the third quarter, they really squeezed us with possession.”
The French did not defy the haka, standing perfectly still in a silent stadium. The French were static, too, when Telea caught a cross-field kick from fullback Beauden Barrett and touched down in the left corner for an unconverted try.
But by halftime, France led 9-8 and worked overtime to restrict the New Zealanders to one try.
“Perhaps it was the atmosphere that made us a little bit inhibited,” Galthié said. “The second part of the game was a great success.”
Telea’s second try came from lineout ball. Ardie Savea’s chip was gathered by Will Jordan and, with the French retreating, center Rieko Ioane looped a flat pass to Telea, who stopped for the bounce and sprinted away clear. He cupped his eyes to let everyone know how good his vision was.
But Ramos was also seeing the ball well.
Penaud’s 30th try for France came in the 55th minute when he took nimble flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert’s neat feed and dived into the right corner, moments after having the ball knocked from his grasp while diving for the tryline.
Ramos converted to put the French 16-13 ahead approaching the hour mark in a game of ferocious intensity.
The noise level exploded when New Zealand winger Will Jordan was sin-binned for a hit on the airborne Ramos but France could add only another Ramos penalty with the man advantage.
Ramos’ fourth and fifth penalties extended France to 22-13 with seven minutes to go. They finished by turning over Barrett and Jaminet scoring. His conversion attempt drew only one raised flag and wasn’t counted.
For three-time champion New Zealand it was another stinging reverse after a humiliating 35-7 loss to defending champion South Africa two weeks ago in the final warmup game.
“We’ve got to get better,” Foster said. “If you get isolated against France they’re very good at attacking the ball.”
The game lived up to the hype, but is unlikely to have much bearing on qualification. Both teams are heavy favorites to go through in a Pool A also featuring Italy, Namibia and Uruguay.
However, No. 1-ranked Ireland and No. 2 South Africa are likely awaiting in the quarterfinals.
The only sour note on a joyous night for France came when President Emmanuel Macron was jeered at the opening ceremony.
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