France were okay and the All Blacks were awful – and the result was a 14 point French win in the 2023 RWC opener, writes Mark Keohane.
I had France to win by 15 points – five days before kick-off.
Because, since the inaugural 1987 RWC, this is the most ordinary All Blacks pack ever to start a World Cup game. Rugby matches are won by numbers one to eight.
Numbers 9, 10, 11 and 14 usually get the headlines, and on occasion 15, but for those individuals to prosper, the those buggers wearing numbers one to eight, individually, and as a collective, have to prosper.
In Paris, on the opening of the 2023 RWC, France’s pack were adequate in the first 40 minutes and good in the second 40. They were not very good, but they were good enough to suffocate a New Zealand pack that was indifferent, at best, and just ordinary.
What this RWC opener showed is that the French can live with expectation and that this New Zealand side operates on the reputation of their predecessors.
The All Blacks were simply not good enough to win. The French were too good to lose.
I had the French to win by 15 points. I got ridiculed for voicing this opinion, but my pre-match view was based on the form of both teams over the past four years. It was never a call made on history.
In these four years, the All Blacks have not had a pack to impose the type of parity needed to unleash their backs.
In Paris, the All Blacks showcased those individual great moments that historically have made them soccer’s Brazil of rugby. Left wing Mark Telea scored two tries and was lethal in all he did. He got subbed on 70 minutes!
Whatever the back composition, this game is about who plays in numbers one to eight.
It has been so for the past 100 years, and in Paris the All Blacks forwards were an embarrassment to those who have worn the black jersey at every preceding World Cup.
They were inferior to a French pack that operated in third and not fifth gear.
The All Blacks forwards were second in everything they did.
A fortnight ago, when the Boks humiliated the All Blacks at Twickenham, it was dismissed as a meaningless warm-up match, but the capitulation of the the All Blacks forwards was always a precursor for what would unfold at the Stade de France in Paris.
Which was: France to win comfortably, by two scores!
Both teams will make it to the quarter-finals, but I know which teams is going home – and it ain’t the hosts.