While the pool reveal for the 2023 Rugby World Cup was met with reservations due to the similarities between it and previous years, there was one tasty quirk which still has fans salivating.
New Zealand and France will meet in the group stages of the competition in what will be their eighth World Cup showdown. Adding some extra intrigue to the clash is the fact that the tournament is, of course, being staged in France.
While the All Blacks have had the better of the two sides throughout the fixtures, winning five of the seven to date, Les Bleus’ two victories are arguably better remembered by Kiwi fans due to how emotional the losses were.
In 1999, France triumphed 43-21 in the semi-finals. Eight years later, a heavily favoured All Blacks team were beaten 20-18 at the quarter-final stages in what was their worst World Cup performance to date.
France won’t have the opportunity to knock New Zealand out of the 2023 competition until the final, should both teams progress that far, but they do have the chance to inflict a first-ever pool-stages defeat on the men in black.
Since the first iteration of the tournament in 1987, World Cups have always kicked off with a game featuring the hosts. Typically, especially since the game went professional, their opposition has been a team that they’ve been expected to beat – but not by an outrageous margin.
That’s somewhat understandable. Many fans want to see the tournament hosts kick off the competition with a win – but they still want the game to be a spectacle. This is especially true for the casual local viewers, who might only be tuning in to the game because it’s being played at a World Cup in their home country.
Since that first flagship competition in New Zealand in 87, seven of the opening nine matches have been won by the hosts, with England falling short against NZ in 1991 and France suffering at the hands of Argentina in 2007.
With France and New Zealand again in the same pool for the first time since 2011, the two rivals will naturally square off at some early stage in the competition – but the jury is still out on when that clash should take place.
From the two nations’ points of view, would it be better to kick the competition off with a challenge, then be able to cruise into the knockout stages of the competition, or would it make more sense for the toughest pool match to occur closer towards the end of the group stages?
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Perhaps the All Blacks, who have flourished on tough competition, would prefer the latter.
In 2007, New Zealand toughest pool match came against a lowly Scotland team who they ended up besting 40-0. A few weeks later, they were undercooked and bundled out by France.
At the last competition, they played South Africa in the opening week and scored a well-taken 23-13 win. The only other tier-one team they played between that opening match and their loss to England in the semi-finals was Ireland, a team who have never progressed past the quarter-finals. The All Blacks’ 32-point win in that game marked the second-largest win in a quarter-final in the tournament’s history and when they came up against an England side that had been building into the competition with victories over Argentina and Australia, they barely fired a shot.
The latest report from French paper L’Equipe, however, suggests that French coach Fabien Galthie wants his side to play the All Blacks in the opening game of the 2023 competition.
With France and New Zealand the strongest teams in the pool, the likely only other semi-competitive games for the top two sides in the group will involve Italy, the 14th ranked nation in the world.
Should Galthie and the French rugby union’s request to World Rugby come to fruition, history will be made one way or another. A victory for the French would end New Zealand’s unbeaten run during the pool stages of World Cups, while a loss would make France the first host nation to have lost two opening night games.
The draw for the 2019 World Cup was unveiled in November of 2017, which suggests that World Rugby likely won’t release the full tournament schedule for 2023’s competition until much later this year.
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