Rugby World Cup: Grand Opening Ceremony

France launches its World Cup on Friday, with a huge match against New Zealand, the queen rugby nation, kicking off a long competition organized less than a year before the 2024 Olympics

Rugby World Cup: Grand Opening Ceremony

France launches its World Cup on Friday, with a huge match against New Zealand, the queen rugby nation, kicking off a long competition organized less than a year before the 2024 Olympics.

The Blues are seeking their first world title and the All Blacks are three-time world champions (1987, 2011, 2015). The tournament will last eight weeks, in nine cities, and will decide South Africa's successor at the end of the October 28 final.

As usual, the New Zealand haka, led by Maori Aaron Smith armed with a ceremonial paddle, preceded the kick-off, given by New Zealand fullback Beauden Barrett at 9:15 p.m., of a chiefs' fight between the Blues, in search of their first world title, and the All Blacks, deprived at the last minute of their captain, Sam Cane.

Proof that this inaugural match launches a real rugby celebration, there were more than blue or black jerseys around the Stade de France. Here knitwear from the South African Springboks, there from the Argentinian Pumas. A whole range of people feeding themselves with men equipped with beer-dispensing backpacks, Ghostbuster-style, on the square in front of the Dyonisian enclosure in the middle of numerous mobile gendarmes.

Mobile gendarmes also escorted the XV de France bus from its base camp in Reuil-Malmaison, cutting through the traffic jams, to the Stade de France where it rushed at 7:40 p.m. sharp, followed by that of the All Blacks a quarter hour later, at 7:55 p.m.

Of the 20 teams divided into four groups, a handful are able to claim the Webb Ellis Cup brought by the legend of the game, South African Bryan Habana, world champion in 2008.

In addition to the two protagonists of the opening match, the Irish world No. 1 and the South African title holders emerge as favorites. With possible outsiders the Argentines, who have a very open table, or the Scots.

Other historic nations, England, Wales and even Australia, this time seem one or even several notches below.

Before the speeches of Emmanuel Macron and the president of World rugby Sir Bill Beaumont, the ceremony intends, according to the organizers, to celebrate "the French art of living", through the journey of the character played by actor Jean Dujardin surrounded by guests from the world of cinema, music and even gastronomy.

Part of the audience at the Stade de France whistled at the French president during his opening speech. “Allez les Bleus” also came down from the stands when the French president made “all the teams” applaud and when he called for a victory for the hosts of this World Cup which will last eight weeks before delivering his verdict on October 28 .

The other cast of this World Cup, that of the players, the most important, is sublime: Antoine Dupont, Beauden Barrett, Jonathan Sexton, Finn Russell, Cheslin Kolbe, Maro Itoje, Semi Radradra… the best rugby players on the planet are almost all there .

The competition, which only four nations (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England) have won since its creation in 1987, is off to a flying start with this duel in the flavor of the final.

On the one hand, the Blues, on a good dynamic, carried by a golden generation with captain Antoine Dupont in the role of standard bearer, accompanied by a plethoric staff attentive to the smallest detail; on the other, the All Blacks, their haka and their three world crowns, losing momentum and who remain on a historic setback against South Africa (35-7) in preparation.

"I'm sure they can bounce back and go all the way but this is going to be the tightest Cup ever," said two-time New Zealand world champion Dan Carter (41), retired in 2020. , in an interview with Agence France-Presse. His compatriots All Blacks land with a knife between their teeth but lacking in confidence: less sovereign and lacking leaders capable of taking charge.

The meeting therefore promises to be hot. In every sense of the word since part of France – including Paris – is experiencing a historic heatwave: it is over 30 degrees one hour before kick-off.

It will be even worse during the daytime matches of the weekend, in Bordeaux, Marseille, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse, including England-Argentina and Ireland-Romania on Saturday and South Africa-Scotland on Sunday. Thus, “cooling breaks” during each of the two halves were decreed during these matches by World Rugby, as in 2019 during the previous World Cup in Japan.

For the rest, “it’s the most open World Cup in history,” commented South African third row Duane Vermeulen, reigning world champion.