Hosts France underlined their Rugby World Cup credentials with a sizzling 27-13 victory against New Zealand, handing the three-time champions their first defeat during a pool phase in a nail-biting, high-paced curtain raiser on Friday.
Les Bleus brought the Stade de France to the boil after a timid first half, turning on the style when it mattered to make a giant leap towards securing top spot in Pool A.
They scored two tries through Damian Penaud and Melvyn Jaminet while the boot of fullback Thomas Ramos made the difference with 17 points.
The All Blacks, beaten for the first time in 32 World Cup pool games, had two Mark Telea tries and a sole penalty by Richie Mo’unga to show for themselves.
France, who had to deal with Romain Ntamack and Paul Willemse being ruled of the tournament injured, next face Uruguay in Lille on Thursday while New Zealand take on Namibia in Toulouse the next day.
With a seemingly comfortable three pool games left before the quarter-finals, France will have time to nurse some injuries, with centre Jonathan Danty expected to make his return while hooker Julien Marchand, who was taken out early on, will need to undergo some tests.
“We think it’s a thigh muscle injury. It’s too early to say anything more,” coach Fabien Galthie said.
“We felt there was a lot of pressure in the first half, it took, us time to relax and they scored quickly and easily. It was the worst possible scenario and even if we were ahead at the break, we did not control the game. But then we took back control.”
While Les Bleus seemed to be on the back foot with very few chances early on, they were just lying in wait in the Parisian humidity, leaving their opponents wasting energy with repeated runs in the suffocating heat.
Galthie’s side abandoned possession in the opening half before turning on the engine after the break, finally showing the kind of high-octane rugby that has put them back on the map in the last four years.
Sixteen years after losing their opening World Cup game as hosts against Argentina, France rose to the occasion, beating the All Blacks for the second time in a row.
The result leaves Ian Foster’s team with a lot of questions to answer and doubts to shake off following their record loss against South Africa last month.
“It was a hell of an opening match, everything we expected,” said Foster. “We fired some good bullets at them, we just didn’t fire enough. It doesn’t change much for us, we just have to find another way out of this pool.” -Reuters