Nobody is yet saying that France will be world rugby champion at home on the evening of October 28, but after the opening match of the world championship played on Friday September 8 in Saint-Denis, the international press is unanimous on one point: the Blues impressed by beating New Zealand 27 to 13.
“France struck a psychological blow by inflicting the All Blacks with their first defeat in the group stage,” wrote Liam Napier in the New Zealand newspaper The New Zealand Herald, who enjoyed a match that was “exciting, with many changes of leader and palpable tension.”
The New Zealanders “collapsed in the second half, suffering their first setback in thirty-two World Cup group matches,” he explains, while for Gavin Mairs, of the English newspaper The Telegraph, “ the Blues made a seismic imprint by dominating New Zealand and offering the French public the first fierce and exciting chapter of a tournament that promises to be the best of them all”.
It was not so much the quality of play offered by the Blues on Friday evening that stood out, but rather their ability to take control of the match in important moments, despite the pressure.
“France were not exceptional but they progressed after leading 9-8 at half-time and never let up,” writes Liam Napier. “In the art of managing pressure, of remaining calm in critical moments, France was light years ahead of the All Blacks,” judges Gregor Paul, special correspondent in Paris for The New Zealand Herald as well. “One team seemed to like the pressure, the other didn't,” he explains, citing as examples the penalty conceded by the New Zealanders just after scoring the first try of the match, or the yellow card received in the second half by Will Jordan, leaving his partners in inferiority for ten minutes.
The Blues “kept themselves in the match by taking advantage of the generosity of the All Blacks who continued to give them gifts until the situation degenerated”, he further analyzes, while admitting “a performance which already puts them as favorites to win their own tournament.”
“France is relieved to win the first match but, despite the score, they know that they can do much better,” writes Robert Kitson of the British daily The Guardian.
“What a start! », proclaims, for its part, the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, while “Gli Azzurri” (“the Blues”, the nickname of the Italian rugby selection) will face the French XV in the group stage. "France is off to an excellent start", and "for Fabien Galthié's team, it is a fundamental victory", notes Roberto Parretta for whom "the All Blacks seemed to have returned to those of two years ago years, uncertain, without a logical and coherent thread, but above all without courage”.
“The All Blacks must catch up with the elite nations of world rugby, of which France is clearly a part,” insists New Zealander Liam Napier.
"A Volcanic French Audience"
While French captain Antoine Dupont “gave the clear impression of playing alone,” according to Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald, “it was Thomas Ramos, the dazzling French full-back, who inflicted the damage,” notes Gavin Mairs. of the Telegraph. The Stade Toulouse player actually scored seventeen of the twenty-seven French points of the evening thanks to his penalties and try conversions.
“France won without Dupont having to shine, which is a statement in itself from the hosts,” said Alex Lowe of the English newspaper The Times, for whom “the aura [of the All Blacks] has disappeared ".
The Blues will now continue with three matches against much more modest opponents: Uruguay on September 14, Namibia on September 21 and Italy on October 6.
“This French team, in the making for four years, has shown why it will be so difficult to beat, especially in front of such a volcanic French public (…) The All Blacks have exposed enough flaws to demonstrate that the Blues are also beatable, this which could well characterize this most open World Cup", hopes for his part Gerry Thornley, of the Irish Times, while Ireland, the first world nation in the international federation ranking, could cross paths with France as soon as the knockout stages. “After this opening night, confidence will now flow through the French veins,” he fears.