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This game didn't win France the World Cup and it didn't lose it for the All Blacks

By Ben Smith
The players of France are given a guard of honour by the players of New Zealand as they leave the field at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Pool A match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on September 08, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

This was just meant to be France’s night, and the host nation deservedly took the spoils at the Stade de Sauna in Paris.


It was fate for the World Cup hosts to start with a big statement and New Zealand became the fatality on the night, in the process dropping their first ever pool game at a World Cup.

The Parisian crowd was there to party and open France’s World Cup in style, with expectations of greatness from their heroes in the unfamiliar white strip. The chorus of whistles and boos rained down accordingly as the bayed for the All Black scalp.

However, in hot sticky conditions it was the All Blacks who stormed out of the blocks to score within 90 seconds.

Rieko Ioane sliced through off a set-piece package where captain Ardie Savea played the foil perfectly from a carry formation in midfield.

Ioane’s blistering run left the crowd stunned, before a Beauden Barrett cross-field kick bounced up for Mark Telea moments later.

That first punch set the tone for the first half which was all about the All Blacks, with 44 per cent of the half’s territory played inside France’s 22.


But France took the punches they threw and the All Blacks missed opportunities which proved costly.

Ethan de Groot coughed up the pill cold on one occasion pressing in France’s red zone.

Right on the tryline with France’s defence reeling towards Telea’s side the forwards never let the backs pull the trigger on a key penalty advantage . They settled for three but the chance to roll the dice went begging.

Near the end of the half continual short side switches failed to yield results when an offload by Codie Taylor sailed over the sideline.

Despite still being in the game down 9-8 at half-time, not getting enough reward for the advantages they enjoyed proved critical.


France had managed to build a lead through Thomas Ramos’ boot with three penalties despite having just one per cent territory inside the All Blacks’ 22 in the half.

They simply did not make it down there, but played patient rugby built off the back of set-piece dominance where they troubled the All Blacks’ scrum and at the breakdown.

The late gamble to play Tupou Vaa’i at No 6 over Luke Jacobson after the injury to Sam Cane didn’t pay off, but whether Jacobson or openside Dalton Papali’i would have fared any better is not certain.

The French backrow of Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, and Francois Cros are world class, three monsters who top tackle counts and turn the ball over. Against the All Blacks makeshift trio, it was no fair match.

Ian Foster needs Shannon Frizell to balance out his best loose forward combination, and while Cane is not well liked by the public, he is the leader for a reason. He sets the example and has the physicality to match.

Whilst Brodie Retallick was a late insertion onto the bench, he didn’t play a lot of minutes which is needed against an opponent like this.

The scrum was an issue, particularly on De Groot’s side as he tried to contain the monster Uini Atonio. Tyrel Lomax would make some difference in stabilising that front row.

Despite the end scoreline, there is reason for optimism for the All Blacks. This was a genuine contest until Thomas Ramos’ 73rd minute penalty goal which built an 8-point lead and forced the All Blacks to chase.

France turned the screws after the Will Jordan yellow card with a pivotal period of pressure swung the momentum in their favour. He needs to change his reckless style of eyes-only for the ball. The chaser has to consider the jumper and pull out accordingly.

As the All Blacks emptied the rather lacklustre bench, comparatively speaking, they couldn’t stay in the contest.

Mark Telea gave everything you could have asked for and Richie Mo’unga was the most dangerous All Black on the pitch with some brilliant touches. His try saver on Damian Penaud was inspirational for the side.

Beauden Barrett was instrumental in the All Blacks kicking game and backfield, handling the exits with a spiral punt and cleaning up loose ends where necessary. His brother Scott was a beast in the engine room.

There are no excuses for the All Blacks, France simply were better on the night. But in more than a month’s time the two sides will shape up differently and there was enough there to suggest the result could be different.

The All Blacks are expected to have Cane, Frizell, Lomax, Retallick and Jordie Barrett back in the starting line-up.

France are expected to see only Jonathan Danty and Paul Willemse return.

France rugby deserved this moment after the results over the last four years, winning consistently at a level considered great.

But this game didn’t win France the World Cup and it didn’t lose it for the All Blacks.


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B.J. Spratt 275 days ago

Argentina v All Blacks 13.59 gone. . .Cricket score All Blacks… See you all in the final.

Backinblack 315 days ago

The score line doesn’t reflect the game…. It was a real contest until the 73rd minute…with 7 minutes to play… then very late the French realised they could lose it so they desperately pulled their fingers out. Played against the best side in the world at their home stadium in front of 80000 screaming fanatical supporters… Based on the fact that France has 30 professional teams in two divisions and NZ has only 5 professional teams the score line should have been more like 50-0 in France’s favour.

darryn 316 days ago

The Allblacks team is in denial. Two big losses in a row, but every is still good and still 'on track'. England dominated Argentina with 14 men, but the fact that the allblacks went to 14 two weeks ago against SA was the main reason given why they lost, especially Jeff Wilson. Cmon

Kenward K. 316 days ago

'But this game didn’t win France the World Cup and it didn’t lose it for the All Blacks.'


sean 316 days ago

No ways is Ben saying anything negative towards his All Blacks but the truth of the matter is this team is not functioning, no doubt NZ fans are praying for Robertson

B.J. Spratt 316 days ago

Every New Zealander witnessed "a group of AB,s players who have just stayed too long"

They looked tired in Dunedin. They looked tired at Twickenham and they looked tired today.

Once again why do we take injured players to a World Cup?

Why wasn't Whitelock captain? Would it have made a difference?

I really can't remember when the " N.Z. Rugby public have been so "critical of the All Blacks, the coaching staff and the NZRFU.

I believe the New Zealand Rugby Public are the most decerning in the World.

Now can we beat Ireland or South Africa in the quarter final.

I have said they won't get out of the "Quarters" for months, so I am not going to change now.

What are the odds on Italy? Just imagine that?

tom 316 days ago

I think NZ looked a bit desperate at times, particularly in the second half. France weren’t amazing but did enough. I had my money on NZ lifting the title but I now believe it is likely to be SA.

GrahamVF 316 days ago

I really love my early morning Ben Smith read. This one reminds me of the Monty Python Black Knight skit. "Tis but a a scratch." (Looses another limb) "Ha - a mere flesh wound." This really is the worst AB team in the professional era. Not necessarily because it has the worst players but because of a combination of creeping, insidious ills and decisions starting in the Hansen era and coming to fruition at the 2023 World Cup. And yet somehow the New Zealand rugby writers and pundits just can't seem to come to terms with it. Do the players and coaches really believe their own press? And do the pundits and press genuinely believe the AB are just one game away from again becoming the all conquering force of 2015? Or is the hierarchy so patriarchally ingrained in New Zealand rugby circles that no one dare criticise? Where there is life there is hope, but really this patient is terminally ill and it would take a miracle of Lazarus proportions for the AB's to get past the semis.

ColinK 316 days ago

It did however show my beloved team the ABs are going home early. No surprises really I won some good money on the NZ TAB betting on France. Only made the bet to stave of the inevitable depression lol.

Michael86 317 days ago

They once again looked like a team without a plan. I mean they couldn't even exit out their own half for goodness sake. What a disgrace

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