Sport | Rugby World Cup

Rugby World Cup: All Blacks burn up in the heat of Stade de France

All Black Aaron Smith leads the haka prior to the opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2023, won by France 27-13 in Paris on Saturday (NZT).

“Welcome to Le Cauldron”

That was the greeting we received by one of our French colleagues on the way to our seats, and he certainly wasn’t kidding. The atmosphere at Stade de France for the opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2023 matched the actual temperature, with the massive crowd playing their part in a 27-13 victory over the All Blacks.

It’s fair to say that it got left it a little late when it came to getting hyped up around the Rugby World Cup, at least from an outsider’s point of view. Looking around Paris this week it was hard to know that anything was really happening, but that can be put down to the French capital being just a massive city with lots going on. On the day of the match, all that changed, though.

Rugby jerseys were suddenly everywhere, the fan zone down the end of the Champs Elysse had a queue hundreds of metres long and the trains were packed heading north to Saint-Denis for the trek to Stade de France.

Oh, and it was hot. Very, very hot.

Queuing up to get in was a slightly dangerous exercise as the temperature soared over 30 degrees, with one member of the media requiring medical attention after standing too long in the heat.

Things started badly for the All Blacks when news came through that Sam Cane had been ruled out, but after it only took a minute and a half for Mark Telea to score, it seemed like it wasn’t going to matter. Especially considering the ease of the move leading up, Rieko Ioane was sent through a gap off a regulation short ball and then Aaron Smith taking on the entire French pack with a tap and go.

But that ended up being an exception, rather than a rule. The French defence tightened up and the game became dominated by the boot. The All Blacks were certainly committed to kicking a lot, and it worked some of the time. The issue was it needs to work all the time.

One thing is for sure: the French spectators are not shy about letting the ref know they’re not happy with any calls not going their way. To be fair, they had a point with Telea’s second try, which came off an extremely dodgy looking pass from Ioane. The whistles and cacophonic howls of derision again were justified at the turning point of the match, when Will Jordan was sin binned for a foolish challenge on Thomas Ramos.

It was from that point on the All Blacks were playing catch up. Their indiscipline had kept France in touch through a series of penalties, despite the fact that the home side didn’t carry the ball into the All Black 22 till well after the half hour mark. That’s the bit that’s really going to sting for Ian Foster and the coaching staff - the parts were there to at least establish a strong first half lead and then win the game, the team just couldn’t put them together.

The noise was suitably deafening when Damian Penaud scored France’s first try, and again when Melvyn Jaminet sealed the deal on full time. It felt more like a European football match at times as the crowd bounced and sang, this really is a French rugby team with a unique level of support right now due to its constant run of success. Even though they threatened to derail themselves in a way that only they can during the weeks leading up, it’s obvious that they will be incredibly tough to beat in this home tournament.

Where does this leave the All Blacks, though? They now have three pool games to get ready for a do or die quarter-final and how they handle the pressure of that will be fascinating. This was the first time an All Black team has ever lost a World Cup pool game - more unwanted history and a result that may set them up to have the worst return of any World Cup side if they do lose the quarter.