Damian Penaud celebrates. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Powerful finish sends France to opening-night win over All Blacks

Fabien Galthié’s men scored two second-half tries to finish over the top of the Kiwis.

France 27

New Zealand 13

WHEN THE FRENCH somehow manage to mess up an anthem as brilliant as La Marseillaise, you know they might collectively be lacking in a little rhythm. 

The anthem was loud, sure, but it was a bit edgy and a bit muddled. Les Bleus’ opening night performance was a little similar, as can be the case with nerves on this big night, until they found another gear to finish over the top of the All Blacks. When they found that extra gear, it was mightily impressive.

What matters most is that they came out on top of a game that New Zealand will feel they might have won had they been a bit more clinical in the first half. This was a contest full of tension and drama, but there was no doubting that France earned their victory.

It was a hot, heavy, humid night in Paris, with the temperature still around 26°C at 11pm, when fullback Thomas Ramos kicked a penalty that sealed the deal and allowed the French supporters, so most of the 78,690 crowd, to really start enjoying themselves.

They had cause for more celebration with two minutes left as Melvyn Jaminet, just on for Ramos, gathered a bouncing ball to score. It added some gloss to the scoreline of a game that see-sawed until a powerful final-quarter finish from the French.

Fabian Galthié’s side, wearing white shirts, had a pragmatic approach, opting for the posts on nearly every occasion the points were kickable and one could sense the home fans’ frustration on a few occasions when momentum was on their side and Ramos took the three.

It was a successful strategy and whenever they did decide to throw caution to the wind, they looked thoroughly dangerous. The minutes before Damian Penaud’s crucial second-half try were impressive as the French went for the Kiwi throats and hurt them.

damian-penaud-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try-with-matthieu-jalibert France scored two tries in the second half. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Ian Foster’s men – who lost skipper Sam Cane to injury before kick-off – will almost certainly still feature in the quarter-finals of this competition but they must find their most ruthless edge. They played some delightful rugby, and made stunning starts to both halves, scoring two wonderful tries through left wing Mark Telea, but they will feel it was an opportunity missed. A yellow card for Will Jordan in the second half didn’t help as France finished much the stronger.

With games against Italy, Namibia, and Uruguay to come, France are a certainty to top Pool A and if they can relax a little after the opening-night stress, they will be hard to beat. It was a concern to lose starting hooker Julien Marchand to injury early on, another to add to that list, but their depth is impressive.

Ireland, who would face one of these sides if they reach the quarter-finals, must have watched with interest. Facing France in this cauldron is daunting, while the Kiwis do have attacking threats. Still, it’s clear who you’d rather play if given the choice.

mark-telea-celebrates-scoring-their-second-try-with-beauden-barrett-as-antoine-dupont-looks-on-dejected Mark Telea scored early in both halves. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Even though the All Blacks’ start was awesome, the first half was a tale of what might have been. But what a start it was, the Kiwis scoring after 92 seconds. From the first lineout, Rieko Ioane scythed through on Anton Lienert-Brown’s deft short pass, hurtling into the 22.

Gabin Villière tried to kill the momentum by playing Aaron Smith’s arm when off his feet, but Smith quick-tapped to instantly continue the flow. France were then offside hauling him down but New Zealand played advantage and Beauden Barrett cross-kicked to the left for Telea to finish on the bounce. Stade de France was stunned.

France responded well, with hooker Marchand’s turnover off the restart allowing Ramos to calmly slot the penalty. 

It was edgy stuff thereafter, with both out-halves missing touch from penalties, both sides giving up lineout possession, and both side struggling to really grab control of the game. 

The French scrum was potent as Uini Atonio made his presence felt, winning two penalties that Ramos kicked. In between, New Zealand had another close-range chance but Scott Barrett knocked the ball on over the line. They still came away with three points off the tee from Richie Mo’unga but it was a let-off for France after they invited the Kiwis in through a knock-on from Ramos.

The All Blacks had to scramble in the 30th minute as Barrett’s pace just allowed him to beat Antoine Dupont to a French kick down the right touchline after an Ethan de Groot knock-on in the French 22 spoiled more superb build-up work from Barrett and Mo’unga.

thomas-ramos-kicks-a-fifty-metre-penalty Thomas Ramos slots a penalty. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

France got maul momentum off the ensuing lineout but when referee Jaco Peyper gave them a generous breakdown penalty, France curiously opted against going into the right corner. Instead, Ramos took on a difficult shot at goal close to the right touchline and missed.

Les Bleus held onto their 9-8 lead into the break, even though the Kiwis had another gilt-edged chance. This time, superb work from Mo’unga darting in midfield and throwing a wondrous pass to Dalton Papali’i put them in prime position. This time, hooker Codie Taylor passed into touch when it looked like they’d score. Pure French relief.

It looked like the home side had come out of the blocks strongly in the second half but again they conceded early. A big carry and offload from the superb Gregory Alldritt saw Dupont scamper to within metres of the Kiwi tryline, but François Cros came in at the side and the chance was gone.

New Zealand struck instantly off the lineout again, using number eight Ardie Savea to stunningly chip over the top of first phase for wing Jordan to regather. He made it up towards the French 22 and then Mo’unga swung a pass wide to Telea on the bounce and he finished untouched.

The French had stopped playing, screaming for a forward pass, but the match officials were happy. Mo’unga couldn’t convert but New Zealand had a 13-9 lead.

France simply had to start offering more of an attacking threat and they did start to fire shots. Lock Thibaud Flament broke off a clever Alldritt pass, then Penaud nearly scored from a clever Matthieu Jalibert cross-kick, only being denied by Mo’unga’s brilliant try-saving tackle in the right corner.

france-fans-celebrate-damian-penaud-scoring-their-first-try The vocal French crowd celebrate. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

France had new life and when they got a kickable shot in the 53rd minute for a push off the ball, they finally went into the corner with it. After a couple of powerful carries from the French forwards, Jalibert swung back to the right, slalomed to the edge, and put Penaud away in the corner. Ramos rubbed salt in the wound with an excellent conversion.

Momentum was on the French side and it swung even further in their favour when Jordan was shown a yellow card for taking out Ramos in the air, Peyper referring it onto the bunker for closer inspection, but it was to stay yellow. They felt it was a low degree of danger, with Ramos landing on his side.

France kicked to touch, mauled the Kiwis into penalty submission, but again opted to go for the posts from a difficult spot out on the right. Ramos missed and it remained 16-13 to the French for the water break.

Upon the resumption, they opted for goal again when the Kiwis failed to roll away from a tackle. From in front of the posts, Ramos made it 19-13 with 15 minutes left.

The French crowd briefly got a chance to relax with that extra breathing room, but they were soon holding their breaths as Ramos opted to try a quick cross-kick on a penalty. Ardie Savea caught it but couldn’t escape up the right. 

dalton-papalii-drops-the-ball Dalton Papali'i loses the ball forward. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

The next time the French had a penalty, Ramos immediately called for the tee and with seven minutes remaining, he gave his side a nine-point lead.

At 22-13, they weren’t going to be caught and they nearly scored a sublime try when Penaud chasesd down a Jalibert kick ahead, fell as he caught it in front of Leicester Fainga’anuku and stunningly offloaded high into the air for Ramos to gather and dot down. It would have been a great score but sadly, there had been a knock-on from Penaud just before.

But there was to be a cherry on top as sub scrum-half Maxime Lucu kicked ahead in the 79th minute, the ball bounced up invitingly, and Jaminet gleefully reeled it in for France’s second try.

France are up and running. They’ll be pleased and there is probably more to come.

France scorers:

TriesDamian Penaud, Melvyn Jaminet

ConversionsThomas Ramos [1 from 2], Melvyn Jaminet [0 from 1]

Penalties: Thomas Ramos [5 from 7]

New Zealand scorers:

Tries: Mark Telea [2]

Conversions: Richie Mo’unga [0 from 2]

Penalties: Richie Mo’unga [1 from 1]

FRANCE: Thomas Ramos (Melvyn Jaminet ’76); Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Yoram Moefana (Arthur Vincent ’58), Gabin Villiere; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont (captain) (Maxime Lucu ’76); Reda Wardi (Jean-Baptiste Gros ’53), Julien Marchand (Peato Mauvaka ’12), Uini Atonio (Dorian Aldegheri ’53), Cameron Woki (Romain Taofifenua ’49), Thibaud Flament, François Cros (Paul Boudehent ’63), Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt. 

NEW ZEALAND: Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown (David Havili ’62), Mark Telea (Leicester Fainga’anuku ’72); Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith (Finlay Christie ’63); Ethan de Groot (Ofa Tu’ungafasi ’53), Codie Taylor (Samisoni Taukei’aho ’69), Nepo Laulala (Fletcher Newell ’53), Samuel Whitelock (Brodie Retallick ’69, Scott Barrett, Tupou Vaa’i (Luke Jacobson ’57), Dalton Papali’i, Ardie Savea (captain).

Referee: Jaco Peyper [South Africa].

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