World Rugby

Historic World Cup Opener Pits France Against The All Blacks In Paris

Historic World Cup Opener Pits France Against The All Blacks In Paris

Get ready for history in the making! France vs New Zealand at Rugby World Cup game one in Paris promises an unforgettable encounter - match preview.

Sep 8, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Historic World Cup Opener Pits France Against The All Blacks In Paris

Three-time Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand get their 2023 campaign underway this evening against hosts France. 

In what could prove to be the game of the tournament on the opening night, the winner of this match will, in all likelihood, emerge as the top seed from Pool A. 

Unlike in previous editions, however, topping the group does not necessarily carry a major advantage. 

Given the fact that the winner of the group will face one of Ireland, South Africa or Scotland in a quarterfinal, all teams are ranked in the top five on the World Rankings. 

Despite a preferential draw not being a significant factor, the opportunity to lay down a psychological marker will be on the minds of teams as kick-off draws nearer. 

Team News 

One unfortunate event heading into this evening is the injury to several front-line players for both sides, namely the French. 

Losing four key starters in flyhalf Romain Ntamack, centre Jonathan Danty, secondrow Paul Willemse, and prop Cyril Baille will test Les Bleus' depth immediately. 

The All Blacks, too, enter the match having made four changes to their side that suffered a record 35 – 7 defeat at the hands of the Springboks a fortnight ago. 

Key among these changes is the absence of centre Jordie Barrett, who misses the match through injury. 

The youngest of the three Barrett brothers in the squad, Jordie has become the linchpin that holds the All Blacks midfield together. 

In his place, veteran Anton Lienart-Brown will get the start in the twelve shirt. 

Elsewhere, starting prop Tyrell Lomax will also miss the fixture through an injury sustained against the Springboks. 

Making a positional change for the fixture, Auckland Blues captain Dalton Papali’i will start ahead of Luke Jacobson, who drops to the bench. 

Speaking about his inclusion, Papali’i said, "To be honest, I've always dreamt of this moment," said the 25-year-old. "I really want to soak it up. You have a job to do for the team, but the excitement levels are going crazy." 

Key Match-Up

Despite both missing front-line starters in Baille and Lomax, respectively, the battle for supremacy starts up front this evening. 

Across the backline, there is little to choose between the two sides, who each possess individuals capable of tearing the script at a moment’s notice. 

In the packs, based on the evidence of the past twenty-four months, the French hold the edge and a relatively sizeable one at that. 

For perhaps the first time in their 117 years of battle, Les Bleus hold the direct advantage across the pack. 

Outside of the dynamic duo of Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea, the harsh reality is that none of the current All Blacks would crack this French pack. In those two positions, it is no certainty that Savea or Barrett would start either, given the quality of Thibaud Flament and Gregory Alldritt, who will both trot out this evening. 

Whilst the age-old adage of write New Zealand off at your own peril remains, albeit at a faint resemblance to the same statement five years ago. On paper, this French side holds the advantage across the board. 

Now facing the very real question of how they handle the immense pressure of being both hosts and favourites, the French will need to carry out the plan six years in the making. 

When asked about the opener, 24-year-old secondrow Cameron Woki was excited about the opportunity to run out in front of their home fans whilst alluding to the pressure on the side. 

"There's a real buzz,” Woki said. 

"We feel supported, and that gives us great pleasure. It helps us perform because we don't want to disappoint our families or the French public. 

"It's coming up fast. We have to make the most of every moment." He concluded. 


The weight of history will be on both side’s shoulders come 9.30 pm local time this evening. 

For the hosts, avoiding the disaster that was their opening loss at the hands of Argentina the last time they hosted the tournament back in 2007 will be paramount. 

As touched upon above, the loss carries little importance in terms of seeding, but a confidence hit this early in the tournament could derail an already rapidly moving train. 

The Kiwis, on the other hand, have never lost a pool game at a Rugby World Cup, thus making this evening a pressure cooker unlike any other team save for France will feel on the opening evening. 

Unlike previous vintages, this All Blacks side have shown vulnerability when the pressure is ratcheted up. 

Losing a home series to Ireland 2 – 1 in 2022 was the first significant crack in what had been, for over a decade, an impenetrable black wall. 

Lacking the leadership of Richie McCaw and, dare we say it, the special playmaking ability of a prime Dan Carter, it is hard to see this side coming back if they fall behind early. 

One working in their favour is the ability to score in bunches, and should they do this, could the weight of expectation rain down from the Parisian sky on those in blue? Realistically, a fast start is the most effective option available to New Zealand. 

As shown over the years, once in a rampant mood with their home fans behind them, the French are a mightily difficult unit to stop. 

On such a momentous occasion for France and with the might of the French people behind their most talented squad in over twenty years, Les Bleus will take this one. The New Zealanders will rebound from their horror loss at Twickenham, but it won’t be enough. France by 6.

France vs New Zealand Line-Ups

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Gabin Villiere; 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 François Cros, 5 Thibaud Flament, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julian Marchand, 1 Reda Wardi, 

Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Paul Boudehent, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Arthur Vincent, 23 Melvyn Jaminet

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Aaron Smith; 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Dalton Papali'i, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot

Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa'i, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 David Havili, 23 Leicester Fainga'anuku