The 2023 Rugby World Cup begins Friday [Saturday morning AEST] and teams are getting ready to kick off the action.
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: one more sleep until the opening game! What’s the mood like in the host nation? Here’s what you might have missed from Thursday, and what you need to know about Friday’s opening match.
VIBE CHECK: It’s a warm one in Paris!
PARIS — It may be the first week of autumn in Paris, but the City of Love is burning with a late blast of summer heat, setting the stage for a sweaty opener at Stade de France on Friday night. When I landed at Charles de Gaulle bright and early Wednesday morning, I was greeted by a glorious sunrise that suggested a good old-fashioned Parisian stinker was on its way, and it didn’t disappoint.
The French capital topped out at 32 degrees Celsius in the mid-afternoon, 11 degrees above the average, with the heatwave continuing on Thursday and set to really ramp up across the opening weekend of the tournament. A top of 36 is expected on Friday and Saturday and while conditions might have cooled slightly for the tournament opener between the hosts and the All Blacks, the 6p.m. kick-off for Australia vs. Georgia on Saturday will really test the conditioning of both sides.
Whatever the case, it won’t be a surprise to see a few balls going to ground early doors, particularly from those teams playing earlier in the day across the weekend. It is going to be a sweaty old Gilbert pill.
— Sam Bruce in Paris
Foster channels Galthie for final press conference
All Blacks coach Ian Foster cut a relaxed figure at the side’s captain’s run press conference, even going as far as to do his best Fabian Galthie impression, sunglasses and all, just hours out from the Rugby World Cup opener against France in Paris.
Despite how relaxed he appeared there’s plenty of pressure mounting on his side, who were soundly beaten by the Springboks in their final warmup match and face a French team raring to go in front of a home crowd.
Much has been made of the opening match between the All Blacks and France, Foster even labelling the lead-in as unprecedented in terms of hype, but he did plenty to downplay the importance of the match, suggesting the result may not be that vital in the end.
“I’ve never seen a build up for a game like this one. I’ve never seen people put so much on it,” Foster said.
“It’s well scripted but at the end of the day, it’s a game we want to go into and commit everything to, and afterwards that doesn’t really change. Whether we win or whether we lose, we’ve still got to qualify out of this group.
“We’re ready to go and we want to walk out on that park with shiny eyes, nice and light, and we just want to play and we’re ready to play.
“We’ve been waiting for it. And then once the ref blows the whistle, let’s see what happens after that.”
Pool A: France vs. New Zealand, Stade de France, Paris (9:15p.m. local / 5:15am AEST / 8:15pm GMT)
Odds [tab.com.au]: France $1.90, -1.5 $2.05; All Blacks $1.90, +1.5 $1.77
What a game this is to start the tournament. While both sides have been hit hard by injury, there will still be an abundance of quality on show at Stade de France on Friday night.
Last time they met it was a comfortable win for France, who trounced the All Blacks 40-25 and snapped a run of 14 straight defeats in the process. Fly-half Romain Ntamack was one of the stars of that show, but sadly he is among the injury ward having been ruled out before the tournament.
As a result, the battle between an in-form Richie Mo’unga and Ntamack’s replacement, Matthieu Jalibert, looms as a defining factor for the tournament opener. With a move to Japan on the horizon, Mo’unga is desperate to replicate his outstanding Super Rugby play at Test level, something he has not always been able to do. Jalibert, meanwhile, will be thankful for his run outside scrum-half and skipper Antoine Dupont a fortnight ago.
Up front, where the All Blacks were crushed by the Springboks at Twickenham, New Zealand again face a huge challenge. They will be thankful they have Scott Barrett — who avoided further sanction for his red card in London — in their run-on side, while prop Nepo Laulala must step up in the absence of Tyrel Lomax. Dalton Papali’i, meanwhile, gives the All Blacks another on-ball option at the breakdown.
“Do we have a point to prove? Yeah, we always do. I don’t think you can ever hide from that,” All Blacks coach Ian Foster told reporters on Thursday.
“We’re a very proud team and we want to play well. And we’re determined to. Then we’ll really assess after that to see where we’re at, and how we progress in this tournament.”
The French will be desperate to get their second home World Cup off to a positive start and banish the demons of their opening defeat to Argentina at the same venue from the 2007 Rugby World Cup, a match their campaign never really recovered from.
This is a far better and established French outfit, however, though the opposition is much stronger this time around, too.
A fascinating World Cup kick-off awaits.
— Sam Bruce
TOP FEATURES OF THE DAY
World Cup openers don’t get any more enticing than New Zealand and France. This weekend we prepare for a new chapter to be written.
NEWS OF THE DAY
McDermott says Wallabies’ pass mark is winning it all
They have an 0-5 record under Eddie Jones to date, but this current Wallabies side is still shooting for the stars at the World Cup, scrum-half Tate McDermott saying his team’s expectation was to be tournament winners at the end of October.
Such a prediction will have a lot of Australians coughing up their Wheat-Bix, but as McDermott rightfully says; if the Wallabies aren’t trying to win the Webb Ellis Cup, then what is the point of being there?
“Pass mark? — I’d say to go all the way,” McDermott told reporters on Thursday afternoon [CET]. “To be honest, we’re not here to scrape out of the pool stages. A pass mark and it should be for all Australians. We’ve got to win it.
“There’s a lot of water under the bridge before we do that but that’s the pass mark.”
Getting past Georgia will be McDermott and the Wallabies’ first assignment, in which they will also have to battle sweltering conditions, as will all competing teams across the opening weekend of action.
Wallabies skipper Will Skelton, who is the biggest unit of a giant Australian pack, said his team had done the hard work in the build-up and would be able to maintain their up-tempo blueprint that Jones had sought to implement since his return.
“It was very similar actually, a very similar heat, we worked hard in Darwin and then we came to France and worked hard again,” Skelton said. “I think most teams at this stage of the preparation are fit, but for us it’s been about getting rugby fit and being able to execute under pressure, under fatigue, in these big games.
“For example this weekend is going to be a massive challenge for us, especially around our set-piece and that heat training in Darwin was nice.”
— Sam Bruce
Mitchell’s start a rare positive in England’s awful build-up
Alex Mitchell wasn’t meant to be at this World Cup, well not according to the original squad at least. The Northampton scrum-half was omitted from the 33-man party back on Aug. 7 with Danny Care, Ben Youngs and Jack van Poortvliet preferred. But Van Poortvliet’s ankle injury against Wales on August 13 saw a spot open up, and Mitchell’s taken it with both hands.
Steve Borthwick said Mitchell’s performance against Fiji was one of the few bright sparks from the 30-20 defeat, and it’s done enough to persuade the England coaches to give him the keys to No.9 for Argentina on Saturday. And he’ll be charged with bringing pace to England’s attack from the back of the scrum.
“It’s immense credit to Mitch in that he was incredibly disappointed not to make the original 33-man squad, and I asked every player to go away and ensure they’d be ready the next man in,” Borthwick said. “An opportunity opened up and one of the positives that came out of the Fiji game was his performance and I thought he played well, he trained exceptionally well and did what was asked of him to ensure he’s ready to go.
“Everybody brings strengths to the team, at scrum-half we have a lot of depth who offer enormous amounts. What Mitch brings is what is right for this team and the combinations we have – everyone knows he has a dangerous running threat. Care and Youngs have their strengths.”
The same goes for Jonny May who was also omitted from the original squad. He was drafted in after Anthony Watson’s injury as reward for his perseverance.
“Jonny’s preparation has been fantastic,” Borthwick said. “You couldn’t ask more from him. He’s been exemplary.”
— Tom Hamilton