A brief history of every Rugby World Cup meeting between France and New Zealand as they prepare for an eighth – and possibly a ninth – match in 2023
France v New Zealand kicks off the 2023 Rugby World Cup tonight. It’s a match-up with history, in all senses of the phrase.
The bare statistics tell part of the story. France v New Zealand is the most-played match in Rugby World Cup history. The sides have meant seven times in six World Cups.
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New Zealand have won five of those meetings, most recently in the quarter-final of the 2015 tournament. It’s a match – it’s a tournament – that most France fans will insist never took place.
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So, let’s start there, and head backwards.
2015: New Zealand 62 France 13
The quarter-final of the 2015 tournament was a low-point in a low period for French rugby.
Neither side was in the best form heading into the 2015 quarter-final at the Millennium Stadium. New Zealand had been patchy, for a given All Black definition of patchy, and France were in the middle of a minor dressing room revolt.
In the 2011 final, a mutinous France had pushed the All Blacks all the way. Unfortunately for them, history was not about to repeat itself. Julian Savea helped himself to a hat-trick as New Zealand eased into the semi-finals with a nine-try demolition job.
The All Blacks took the lead in the fifth minute through Dan Carter. Scott Spedding levelled for France a few minutes later – and that was as good as it got for France.
Brodie Retallick galloped over to score the match’s opening try. And when Nehe Milner-Skudder – a controversial selection over Waisake Naholo at the time – scored one of the individual tries of the tournament in the 24th minute, the match was over as a contest.
The only question was whether France could stem the flow of tries. Seven more followed – including Player-of-the-Match Savea’s triple, and a late brace for Tawera Kerr-Barlow – so you can probably work out how that went.
Put it this way: New Zealand’s biggest winning margin over France is 51 points in June 2007, when France sent a weakened side on tour halfway across the world. This was just three point shy of it, on the game’s biggest stage, with – officially – their best available side.
2011: New Zealand 37 France 17
The first of two meetings between the sides in the 2011 tournament at fortress Eden Park. France had not – still have not – won at the venue since the remarkable match in 1994 that featured The Try From the End of The World (™).
And, this five-tries-to-two final score suggested that their record was not about to be broken. Israel Dagg scored twice, Cory Jane and Adam Thomson one apiece before France troubled the tryline through Maxime Mermoz.
Carter, meanwhile, slotted five out of seven kicks at goal. And, after François Trinh-Duc had scored a face-saving touchdown for France, there was still time for a certain Sonny Bill Williams to have the final try-scoring word.
France 7 New Zealand 8
What a different a month makes. New Zealand made light work of France in the pool phase. For their part, France had scraped through the early stages, losing two pool matches, and were in the grip of a player-management stand-off.
In brief, both sides scored a try. France converted theirs; New Zealand didn’t. But New Zealand scored a penalty through kicker Stephen Donald. You know the story. Donald wasn’t in New Zealand’s original squad, and was preparing to leave for English side Bath.
But, two weeks before the final, with Carter already injured, Colin Slade dropped out of the squad. Donald got the call to come in as cover. He was unused in the semi-final win over Australia. But Aaron Cruden suffered a knee injury late in the first half, leaving Donald to finish the match, and kick the decisive three-pointer.
It was the first time a single nation held both the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups, after the Black Ferns won the 2010 tournament.
2007: New Zealand 18 France 20
Thierry Dusautoir was named Player of the Match – and later the International Rugby Board’s Player of the Year – in the 2011 final. His performance at Eden Park was extraordinary. But, four years’ previously, at the Millennium Stadium, he was otherworldly.
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They had looked out for the count, going in 13-3 down at halftime. But tries from Dusautoir and Yannick Jauzion condemned the favourites to an early exit. France went on to lose the semi-final against England, back on home soil.
This was the match in which Dusautoir was given his ‘Dark Destroyer’ sobriquet by the English media. His 38 tackles in Cardiff on October 6, 2007, remain a record.
2003: New Zealand 40 France 13
The third-place play-off. The match no side wants to play. But New Zealand had lost to Australia and France were beaten by eventual winners England in the semi-finals to set up what, then, was the third meeting between the two sides in as many World Cups.
A highlights package of the semi-final between New Zealand and Australia will focus on Stirling Mortlock’s interception try. History is good at distilling things into a single moment, but there’s an argument that New Zealand should have won that game. They didn’t – thanks more to Elton Flatley’s boot than Mortlock’s moment.
So five days later, they ran in six tries – including one apiece for Doug Howlett and Mils Muliaina, who both finished with seven for the tournament – as they simply took their frustration for their semi-final defeat out on France.
1999: France 43 New Zealand 31
The 1999 semi-final at Twickenham is one of those fixed points in Rugby World Cup history.
The All Blacks had threatened to run away with the match. Two converted Jonah Lomu tries helped them to a 24-10 lead six minutes into the second half.
And then… France happened. If the 2007 quarter-final win was a triumph of non-traditional French rugby pragmatism, this was an explosion of pure, unadulterated French flair.
In 24 remarkable minutes, Christophe Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Philippe Bernat-Salles crossed the New Zealand tryline. Dominici’s try, in particular, got the 70,000 crowd at Twickenham on their feet, while Bernat-Salles celebration is meme-worthy.
Between the 46th minute and the final whistle, France scored 33 points. New Zealand managed seven.
1987: New Zealand 29 France 9
The first Rugby World Cup meeting between France and New Zealand came in the final of the inaugural tournament at Eden Park.
France had beaten Australia, arguably tournament favourites, 30-24 in a semi-final thriller. But it seemed their exploits in the last four left them with nothing for the showpiece match itself.
A relatively young New Zealand side, the Baby Blacks nickname now used to talk about the under-20s side was coined for David Kirk’s side in 1987, scored three tries through Michael Jones, Kirk and John Kirwan. Grant Fox kicked the rest of their points.
It was as much of a walk in the park as their 2015 quarter-final.
And, what about 2023? The sides meet for an eighth time, as they kick off the Rugby World Cup at Stade de France. Whatever the result on the opening day, don’t be too surprised if the two sides meet twice this year…
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