New Zealand looks for heroes as Dan Carter, the great architect of its last title, in 2015, poses next to the Webb Ellis Cup at the Stade France. Two hours later he witnesses a historical anomaly: his team, the only one that did not know what it was like to lose in the group stage in the previous nine World Cups, falls 27-13 to the host. France still has no heroes, but it does have a plan to finally win the coveted cup. A plan that is injury-proof and bad-start-proof. His introduction to the great planetary bogeyman, without the tusk of previous generations, exceeded expectations.
The French boos at the haka were the perfect fuel for the New Zealanders, who started the tournament as if those were the last minutes of the final. Rieko Ioane punished the advanced French defense by breaking through the center when the clock was only counting seconds. The French retreat against the current ended in a penalty, but the All Blacks gave them no respite: they resumed the game in a flash and took advantage of the disorder to create magic. That of Beauden Barrett, who traced a kick that Mark Telea read patiently, waiting for the ruling of the boat, which smiled at him. His was the first test of the World Cup in just a minute and a half.
It was a slap in the face, but France has dikes so that that blow did not become a hurricane. A defense that combines physicality with organization, protected by its kickers, the weapon of prudence to ward off danger. The plan was to take advantage of the dominance of their forwards, as good ball carriers as they are thieves, to force fouls in the opponent’s half. This is how the host recomposed herself, without taking big risks, feeding her score with kicks and sticks. The team that other times seeks a dizzying record – for example, to overwhelm rocky Ireland – has a wardrobe to shrink the field. Given the lack of space, New Zealand attacked with their forward, but France resisted on their try line. Thus, far from insisting, the Oceanians were satisfied with the three points of beating with sticks. Its beginning had been fright, not death. And the XV del Gallo smiled at half-time (9-8).
The dilemma of the match was whether the All Blacks would find enough virtuosity to break the French common thread. They did it again in an anarchic action after a follow-up kick that allowed them to run. With his line charging, Ioane took a long pass that carried the force of a kick. Telea was there again to finish the task and sign his double while the public whistled to understand that the pass was advanced and the try should not go up the scoreboard. Richie Mo’unga, the fly half who replaced Barrett at fullback, missed both conversion kicks, so his team did not save in times of fat.
Another slap that didn’t set a trend. France exhibited maturity and did not change its plan while waiting for opportunities to arrive. Their forward is so reliable when she moves the ball that it unbalances any defense. Faced with the nuisance, New Zealand suffered in the retreat when the ball reached the fast men, called Damien Penaud, the French top scorer. Mo’unga made a heroic tackle to stop his sprint along the band, but his teammates could do nothing in the next attempt against the French superiority, in terms of troops and in terms of criteria, that of Matthieu Jalibert, one of many Frustrated French Golden Boys who take the opportunity of a lifetime due to Romain Ntamack’s injury. The fly-half pinned Telea and attended the try that would irrevocably turn the game around.
Far from finding a new record, the All Blacks complicated their lives with a host of fouls such as a dangerous tackle that cost Will Jordan the yellow card – and ten minutes of numerical inferiority. France did not need any feats to increase the lead with two kicks from Ramos that already forced their rival to two scores for the happy ending. There was not even a hint of rebellion because it was Jaminet who closed the account after a kick that he caught in a give-up to the oceanic defense. A major victory that will surely be worth first place in a group with Namibia, Italy and Uruguay, rivals that should not jeopardize the New Zealanders’ qualification for the quarterfinals as runners-up.
You can follow EL PAÍS Deportes in Facebook y Twitterclick here to receive our weekly newsletter.