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France defeat All Blacks in historic Rugby World Cup opener

Les Bleus defeated three-time Webb-Ellis Cup winners the All Blacks convincingly Friday at Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Second-half tries by winger Damian Penaud and replacement fullback Melvyn Jaminet helped seal France's historic 27-13 victory.

At last the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup opener. Over the years, Les Bleus and the All Blacks have met seven times in rugby world cups. Despite historic New Zealand dominance, the encounters have been unpredictable, exciting, and - depending on who you support - devastating. France's victory on Friday evening was no exception.

Antoine Dupont's men defeated the All Blacks and brought about their first-ever loss during a World Cup pool match. Second-half tries by winger Damian Penaud in the 55th minute and replacement fullback Melvyn Jaminet in the 79th minute helped France to a convincing 29-13 victory at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, a suburb outside Paris.

After a closely contested first half, the French got the edge because of New Zealand's ill-discipline. The All Blacks conceded too many penalties which Thomas Ramo was able to convert at regular intervals throughout the match. The French fullback scored 17 of France's points with his famously accurate right foot.

The opening ceremony of the 10th Rugby World Cup was, well ... French. It began with Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin cycling through the 1950s, distributing baguettes to some of France's most celebrated individuals. A bit of Edith Piaf, a floating beret, the Eiffel Tower, and some impressive acrobatics later, fireworks lit up the sky above the sold-out stadium.

There was nothing to separate France and New Zealand, rated 3rd and 4th in the world respectively, as they ran onto the pitch.

Les Bleus, having convincingly beat New Zealand at the same ground 40-25 at the end of 2021, could feel confident they could get the job done. But, the All Blacks had returned to form since then. Until their largest-ever loss to South Africa's SpringBoks at Twickenham on August 25, New Zealand won 11-straight matches.

To tip the balance, it was the All Blacks who started on the back foot. Just as French President Emmanuel Macron was inaugurating the competition it was announced the men in black had lost their captain Sam Cain to injury. Ardie Savea took the reigns.

Though, their fortune turned around remarkably quickly. After a clean line break from centre Reiko Ioane, followed by a pinpoint cross-field kick by flyhalf Beauden Barett, left winger Mark Telea scored in the corner in the second minute.

After the shock of the early try, it took a while for the World Cup nerves to settle. Both teams struggled to hold on to the ball for longer than a few phases in the opening passage but, France benefited from some early penalties - a theme that would continue throughout the match. Ramos gave the French the lead for the first time in the 20th minute with his second penalty.

Soon, the All Blacks were back in French territory, and, like the first time, they looked threatening. The French were lucky they only conceded a Richie Mo'unga penalty which briefly gave the All Blacks back the lead before Ramos returned the favour.

France went into the sheds one point ahead, 9-8, after defending themselves out of an All Black onslaught at the end of the first half.

The second half started almost exactly like the second: with a try in the corner by New Zealand's Telea. The pass to Telea from Reiko Ioane, which pitched before reaching him, was seen to have clearly travelled forward in the replay but was not caught by the referees in real time.

The sequence was reminiscent of the 2007 quarter-final when French fullback Damien Traille threw an unpunished, illegal forward pass to Freddie Michalak, leading to the latter's match-winning try against the All Blacks. Had New Zealand won the encounter, they would have likely celebrated the poetic justice.

In perhaps the most beautiful passage of the game, after a cross-field kick, the talented French winger Damian Penaud, took the ball one-handed in the air, pinned his ears back, and ran for the corner. New Zealand flyhalf Richie Mo'unga, running across the field managed to dislodge the ball from Penaud's arm just before he could place the ball over the try line.

The French kept their momentum, and Penaud got what he was denied just minutes earlier. After a skillful series of passes, he touched down - this time, untouched - in the corner for France's first try in the 56th minute. Ramos converted from the corner and France took the lead 16-13.

From there, the All Black's trouble went from bad to worse. New Zealand fullback Will Jordan was yellow-carded for dangerously contesting a high kick and sent off for ten minutes.

After two more Ramos penalties, Jaminet's 79th-minute try, which came after a brilliant kick by Antoine Dupont's replacement Maxime Lucu, hit the nail in the New Zealand coffin.

The match was the most important for both teams in the first few weeks of the tournament. The other teams that make up Pool A - Italy, Uruguay, and Namibia - are not expected to threaten either France or New Zealand in the games to come.

France will now likely play the runner-up of Pool B in the quarter-finals and New Zealand will play the winner.

France will play Uruguay on September 14 while the All Blacks will line up against Namibia the following day.