Rugby World Cup openers don’t get much hotter than this. The hosts, rejuvenated under head coach Fabien Galthié, against the three-time champions – who head into the tournament off the back of a record-breaking 35-7 loss against South Africa at Twickenham two weeks ago.
France have not lost on home soil since Scotland beat them at an empty Stade de France in the COVID-19 affected 2021 Six Nations. It’s their only defeat in France in the Galthié era. New Zealand have never lost a pool phase match at the Rugby World Cup.
Something has to give in Saint-Denis on Friday.
FIXTURE: France v New Zealand
VENUE: Stade de France (82,000)
KICK-OFF: 21:15 local time (GMT+2)
This is the eighth time these two sides have met in Rugby World Cups. The All Blacks have won five of the previous seven fixtures - including the finals of both the 1987 and 2011 tournaments, and the quarter-final of the 2015 tournament when they came within three points of recording their biggest-ever win against Les Bleus.
The 1999 semi-final at Twickenham has gone down in the annals as one of the greatest rugby matches in history, let alone Rugby World Cup history.
Two Jonah Lomu tries gave the All Blacks what should have been an unassailable 24-10 lead after 46 minutes.
But then France scored 33 points in 28 remarkable minutes - Christophe Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Philippe Bernat-Salles all crossing for tries in front of an astonished 70,000 crowd - as they roared back to win 43-31.
KEY TALKING POINT
The obvious question is whether this France, under Galthié - who has engineered a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the national side since officially taking charge in 2020 - can inflict a first-ever pool phase defeat on the All Blacks at a Rugby World Cup.
Matthieu Jalibert v Richie Mo’unga: There are big clashes all over the pitch in this showstopper of a Rugby World Cup opener. Antoine Dupont against Aaron Smith; Gregory Alldritt versus Ardie Savea; rising star Thibaud Flament against Scott Barrett. But, in the absence of the injured Romain Ntamack, 24-year-old Jalibert’s challenge is to manage the game and, perhaps, provide the decisive spark of flair. Opposite him, the All Blacks' first-choice 10, who will be determined to lay down his own marker on the match from the start.
The remarkable 1999 semi-final aside, France’s only other win over New Zealand in Rugby World Cups came in the 2007 quarter-final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, when they fought back from 13-3 down at half-time to win 20-18.
France flanker Thierry Dusautoir scored a try - and made an astonishing 38 tackles in the comeback win.
Jaco Peyper (South Africa). This is Peyper’s third Rugby World Cup in a row as a referee.
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Gabin Villiere; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont (captain); Reda Wardi, Julian Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Thibaud Flament, François Cros, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt
Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Boudehent, Maxime Lucu, Arthur Vincent, Melvyn Jaminet
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Mark Telea; Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith; Ethan de Groot, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Dalton Papali'i, Sam Cane (captain), Ardie Savea
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ofa Tuungafasi, Fletcher Newell, Tupou Vaa'i, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku