The 2023 Rugby World Cup has officially kicked off with France opening the tournament with a stunning win over the All Blacks.
These daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the World Cup as well as betting lines, what to watch for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from France.
Today’s edition: France put an end to New Zealand’s unbeaten pool run across nine tournaments, before we roll into four massive games in Match Day 2 with under fire Australia and England getting their campaign’s underway.
THE LEAD: Parisian party underway after France’s opening win
They were still eating and drinking in the bistros of Paris long after fulltime of Friday night’s Rugby World Cup opener, the home fans keen to prolong a big day of celebrations that received the cherry on top in Les Bleus’ 27-13 win over the All Blacks.
In what was the biggest opening game in the tournament’s history, the home fans helped will their side to victory with renditions of La Marseillaise and chants of “Allez le Bleus” and loud jeers when the decisions of referee Jaco Peyper didn’t go their way.
But in the final five minutes, knowing the game was well and truly theirs, the party really went up a gear when Melvyn Jaminet soared over Richie Mo’unga to score France’s second try and put the result beyond any remaining doubt.
The fans poured back out into the streets around Stade de France thereafter, making their way back into the heart of Paris via the metro to continue the celebrations well into the early hours of Saturday morning.
After such a long and anticipated build-up, this was exactly the start France was after.
It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but showed they could handle the pressure of being tournament hosts and the expectation that has been building for this team since the 2019 World Cup.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
NEWS OF THE DAY
– Water breaks will be used throughout the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2023, World Rugby confirmed on Friday. A scorching 35 degrees Celsius day greeted France and New Zealand for the tournament opener, with conditions only slightly cooler by the time kick-off rolled around at 9.15p.m. local time. The temperatures across France are set to drop back into the far more comfortable low to mid 20s for week 2 of the tournament.
– All Blacks captain Sam Cane was a late scratching for the side’s opening match against France on Friday night [Saturday morning AEST]. While the team failed to provide a statement ahead of kick-off, a social media post confirmed the flanker had picked up an injury, forcing an early return for lock Brodie Retallick who was brought onto the bench. It’s horror news for the All Blacks who are already battling numerous injuries with first-choice prop Tyrel Lomax ruled out of the opener with a nasty leg gash as well as inside centre Jordie Barrett with knee soreness. It’s unclear how severe Cane’s injury is or how long he could be sidelined. Ardie Savea was named captain in his absence.
Pool A: Italy vs. Namibia, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne (1p.m. local / 9p.m. AEST / 12p.m. GMT)
Odds [tab.com.au]: Italy $1.01, -33.5 $1.90; Namibia $17, +33.5 $1.85
Winless in all six World Cups they’ve competed in, Namibia shouldn’t give Italy too much grief on Saturday night, but it’s a game the Azurri will want to make a mark in. In one of the toughest pools in the tournament, Italy will need to score a big win if they’re a chance to progress through to the quarters, and with genuine attacking weapons in fullback Ange Capuozzo and wing Monty Ioane expect plenty of points to be scored.
– Brittany Mitchell
Pool B: Ireland vs. Romania, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux (3:30p.m. local/ 9:30p.m. AEST / 2:30p.m. GMT)
Odds [tab.com.au]: Ireland -63.5 $1.90; Romania $67, +63.5 $1.85
Expect plenty of one-way traffic in this one with tournament favourites and World No.1 Ireland naming a formidable side to take on a Romanian team that was hammered in each of their warmup matches against Italy and Georgia. While Ireland will hardly be tested, it’s still a hugely important match for the team with Jonny Sexton finally getting some runs into his legs after he missed all of Ireland’s warmup clashes through suspension. With Josh van der Flier named on the bench, it’ll be a fast finish from Ireland who’ll look to this match to make a real statement on the tournament.
– Brittany Mitchell
Pool C: Australia vs. Georgia, Stade de France, Paris (6p.m. local / 2a.m. AEST / 5p.m. GMT)
Odds [tab.com.au]: Australia $1.03, -21.5 $1.90; Georgia $12, +21.5 $1.90
Naming their least experienced side for a Rugby World Cup match in 20 years, the Wallabies head into their opening clash against Georgia determined to shed themselves of their disappointing form in the lead into the tournament.
Winless under Eddie Jones in five matches so far this year, a much changed side from his first earlier this year will take to the field with the returned Wallabies coach unafraid to roll the selection dice – despite how important this opening match will be for his team.
Struggling for goal kickers, Jones has brought unheralded utility Ben Donaldson into fullback in a move to shore up his kicking options with Nic White coming off the bench to give a third option if needed. Meanwhile he’s named a side full of fire power he’ll be hoping will run over the top of Georgia – especially in what’s set to be sweltering conditions.
– Brittany Mitchell
Pool D: England vs. Argentina, Stade de Marseille, Marseille (9p.m. local / 5a.m. AEST, 8p.m. GMT)
Odds [tab.com.au]: England $1.95, +1.5 $1.77; Argentina $1.85, -1.5 $2.05
The build up has hardly been ideal for England. Their captain Owen Farrell is suspended, as is their standout No.8 Billy Vunipola. They lost three of their four World Cup warm-up matches, including suffering a first ever defeat to Fiji. And they lost two of their World Cup squad to injury before the party even got going.
But the message from the England camp is far from defeatist as they prepare for Argentina. In many people’s eyes, England are underdogs for Saturday’s match in Marseille. But Steve Borthwick feels his team have been prematurely written-off.
“I sense there is a feeling among the players, they’ve been written off too early,” Borthwick said. “People have called time on them a bit too early. I think there is a lot of class in this squad. The players have a hell of a lot more to go. They can’t wait to get stuck in on Saturday night.”
The central crux of his argument, and the reasons behind their quiet optimism, is this team has already suffered their fair share of incisional and collective disappointment. They had the heartbreak of the World Cup final defeat four years ago to South Africa with several of that squad in this group. They have their own individual stories with Saturday’s captain Courtney Lawes repeatedly battling back from injury to make the field. So it’s a collective spirit and will which is steering England into this World Cup, rather than form.
“We talked about Manu Tuilagi, he’s had to adapt, he’s had to overcome. When I look at people like [Courtney Lawes], who has been tough and overcome a lot, there is a huge number in this squad who are just like him, made of tough stuff. I expect them to come on Saturday night and bring that onto the pitch.”
There’s also an urgency among this group.
For several it’s their last shot at winning a World Cup, players like Dan Cole are in their fourth global gathering and desperately want this honour to crown a storied and remarkable career.
On the pitch the decision to start Alex Mitchell and Jonny May – two players originally out of the original squad but then called up as injury replacements – shows Borthwick is less pragmatic than we’ve seen him previously, and more trusting his gut. These are picks on form. While the decision to go with Cole at tight-head is a nod to disarming the Pumas’ power in the scrum.
England lost to Argentina back in November, a defeat that signalled the beginning of the end for Eddie Jones. Two months on and Borthwick was in the hot seat. It wasn’t the plan, but Borthwick trusts his players to get the job done come Saturday as the group look to channel the hurt of their recent form into a win.
“There is definitely a frustration,” Lawes said. “We feel it as much as anybody. We are in the thick of it and we are doing everything we can to make sure, come this weekend we are firing on all cylinders. We are going out all guns blazing and we are going to give it everything we have got.”
— Tom Hamilton
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