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Rugby World Cup: France-New Zealand, a dream poster to launch 50 days of festivities

A long and beautiful story.

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Rugby World Cup: France-New Zealand, a dream poster to launch 50 days of festivities

A long and beautiful story. Made of passion, fervor, exploits and disillusionment. France and New Zealand have faced each other seven times in the World Cup, since the final of the first edition in 1987, lost by the Blues of Jacques Fouroux (9-28), to the historic rout of the group at Philippe Saint -André, in the quarter-finals in 2015 (13-62). With, in the middle, only two small French victories, but two tours de force which profoundly marked the history of French rugby. First there was this classic semi-final won in 1999 at Twickenham with a diabolical Christophe Dominici (43-31). Then this improbable success in Cardiff in the quarter-finals of the 2007 edition in the wake of Thierry Dusautoir, inexhaustible pruner (20-18).

For the second time, Tricolores and All Blacks will, this Friday, cross swords in the group stages. In 2011, Marc Lièvremont's team fell heavily in September (37-17), before, a month later, coming very close to the world dream (7-8). A new chapter in this story between the two nations will be written at the Stade de France. And Fabien Galthié, who was part of the feat in 1999, is already salivating: “We are so happy to face this team. This match is a celebration, a joy, a great happiness, it’s wonderful. This match against the New Zealanders is a challenge in all areas of rugby. There is an invisible force that must be born in these moments.”

The XV of France, in its quest for a first global coronation, intends to write the history of the World Cup. Because, never, in 31 group matches played since 1987, have the “men in black” experienced defeat. Only nation with such an immaculate record. Except that New Zealand is moving into the unknown, the fault of its up-and-down performances over the past two years. Unusual, for the three-time titled team (1987, 2011 and 2015), which sets the benchmark on the oval planet with its dynamic, attacking and athletic game.

In the wake of the 2019 semi-final, where the Kiwis were crushed by Eddie Jones' XV de la Rose (7-19), the turbulence was violent, with these setbacks conceded at home in 2022 against Ireland (lost tour 2-1) - a first since 1994 against… the Blues -, then against Argentina (18-25). New Zealand coach Ian Foster was then the target of violent criticism in the land of rugby king. With a recurring debate: are the current All Blacks worse than icons Richie McCaw, Dan Carter or Kieran Read? Pierre Berbizier, the former coach of the Blues, validates this idea of ​​a generational hole. “They have very, very good players, but they are not exceptional,” he tackles. And to press: “The Blacks are used to losing. Before, beating them was an achievement. This is no longer the case today. And that changes the way of approaching them enormously.”

With Fabien Galthié, the Blues have relaxed against the New Zealand ogre. The XV of France remains in fact on a success against the men of the fern (40-25), in November 2021 at the Stade de France, which had ended a black series of 14 defeats in a row since 2009. After this turbulence, the Kiwi machine seemed to have resumed its march forward, signing 11 consecutive matches without defeat (10 wins for 1 draw) and winning the Rugby Championship this summer for the 20th time. With a newfound status as a contender for the world title. But that was before the Blacks crossed paths with the Springboks, also triple world champions (1995, 2007, 2019), at the end of August at Twickenham. For a humiliation (35-7) which was a landmark. The heaviest defeat in their history.

Also read: Wilkinson, “SBW”, Botha: three world champions judge the French XV

Ian Foster, after this violent knockout, nevertheless wanted to be positive. “This match will take a lot of pressure off us,” he said. No one is going to overrate us now, which is pretty good. We’ll just prepare quietly and keep to ourselves.” Be careful, therefore, of the injured beast - certainly deprived of key elements, like Jordie Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Shannon Frizell - but which could well spoil the great rugby celebration in France. Everything is now back on track. “I am not sure that we can measure the impact of past matches,” says French manager Raphaël Ibañez. We briefly studied this topic with the whole group. The conclusion is that there are not many lessons to learn from the past. The opening match of 2007 (lost against Argentina 12-17, Editor's note) is only an episode which remains, paradoxically, a good moment, because we then beat the All Blacks.

This year, whatever the outcome of this first match against New Zealand (9:15 p.m., TF1), France will have to come up against another big client from the quarter-finals, almost assured, a priori the Ireland or South Africa. And, this time, the match will be elimination…

FRANCE COMPOSITION: Ramos - Penaud, Fickou, Moefana, Villière - (o) Jalibert, (m) Dupont - Ollivon, Alldritt, Cros - Flament, Woki - Atonio, Marchand, Wardi. Substitutes: Mauvaka, Gros, Aldegheri, R. Taofifenua, Boudehent, Lucu, Vincent, Jaminet.

NEW ZEALAND TEAM COMPOSITION: B. Barrett - Jordan, Ioane, Lienert-Brown, Telea - (o) Mo'unga, (m) Smith - Cane (cap.), Savea, Papali'i - S. Barrett, S. Whitelock - Laulala, Taylor, De Groot. Subs: Taukei'aho, Tu'ungafasi, Newell, Vaa'i, Jacobson, Christie, Havili, Clarke.

XV De France
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