France too strong in World Cup opener
New Zealand could have no excuses for their 13-27 loss to France, their first loss in a Rugby World Cup pool game, in an outstanding opening game in Paris on Saturday (NZT).
Too many penalties (4-12), too many in goal-kicking positions, and errors in attacking situations diminished an All Blacks performance in which they ran up against a patient French team who, despite being run off their feet in the first half, came back hard in the second half.
And because of the All Blacks penalties, their goal-kicking fullback Thomas Ramos ensured France could go to the break at 9-8 ahead while enjoying a tantalising margin for most of the second half.
That was despite the All Blacks scoring their first try within two minutes of the start of the game.
The second-half introduction of France's substitutes revived their game, and with increased dominance at the breakdown, they scored twice, the second try in the 77th minute sealing their win and demonstrating the depth within their squad.
Substitute halfback Maxime Lucu lobbed a kick towards the All Blacks line, where the bounce did covering player first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga and was taken by replacement Melvin Jaminet, who scored.
By opting to continue their kicking game, New Zealand too often contributed ball to the French, and they were able to use it to effect. The possession was turned around from the first half, with France securing 61 per cent compared to 46 in the first half. While they made 127 tackles to 91 and contained the All Blacks, who beat 32 defenders to 16, the French showed more control, slipping 11 offloads to seven by New Zealand.
France had started the second half with a strong surge at the line but, at a crucial stage, were penalised for side entry. The All Blacks cleared to near halfway, winning the lineout and sending the ball to the line, where a chip ahead was made for wing Will Jordan. He secured the ball and set up a ruck, which saw centre Rieko Ioane throw a long pass to wing Mark Telea, who had a clear run to the line for his second try.
But penalties continued to punish the New Zealanders and, in the 55th minute, when a player was pushed away from the ball, a penalty was awarded with France kicking to the corner. After working the ball to midfield, it was moved back to the blindside where first five-eighths Matthieu Jalibert ran into space and threw a ball to wing Damian Penaud, who scored moments after having earlier lost the ball diving for the line in a superb cover tackle made by Mo'unga.
The momentum shifted to France in the 56th minute when Jordan was sin-binned after taking a player in the air.
New Zealand started without captain Sam Cane, who was forced out with a pre-game injury. Tupou Vaa'i played on the blindside flank, with Dalton Papali'i moving to the openside.
France lost hooker Julien Marchand to an upper thigh injury early in the game.
Making the perfect start, the All Blacks cleared the first lineout and, with a planned move, put centre Rieko Ioane into space, and he took the ball deep into the French 22m area. A penalty occurred at the ruck, and halfback Aaron Smith tapped to take the ball to the line. When the ball emerged, fullback Beauden Barrett was at first receiver and lobbed a kick across the field, where Telea took the bouncing ball and touched down.
The game became a chess match, with France looking to benefit from penalty goal chances, which saw Ramos landing three attempts out of four, but that was the only way they looked like scoring. New Zealand's defence was accurate.
When the All Blacks got their continuity game, they stretched the home side, and it took its toll, especially in the hot temperatures, with the big French pack showing the effects of the speed at which they had to defend.
The All Blacks were more at ease in handling the French tactical kicking and enjoyed the advantage in all the key areas - but in the penalty count, they conceded 5-3.
Minor mistakes were crucial in such a close half. A miscommunication in an attacking lineout saw France claim the ball while prop Ethan de Groot was penalised at two scrums. He also lost the ball forward in a promising drive at the line, while just before halftime, hooker Codie Taylor threw a ball low and out when the All Blacks were building good pressure.
French No.8 Greg Alldritt was one of the more competitive performers for his side, picking off one outstanding turnover while making some strong runs.
France 29 (Damian Penaud, Melvyn Jaminet tries; Thomas Ramos con, 5 pen) New Zealand 13 (Mark Telea 2 tries; Richie Mo'unga pen). HT: 9-8
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