France: Rugby World Cup 2023 review

France: Rugby World Cup 2023 review

Passion, exhilaration, devastation: France's Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign explored the extremes of emotion.

Abiding memory

It’s difficult to pin one down after the emotional roller-coaster that was Les Bleus’ journey through the Rugby World Cup 2023. When France beat New Zealand in the tournament’s opening game, they enjoyed moments of pure communion with their fans at Stade de France and beyond. Yet just over five weeks later in the same venue, the heart-wrenching finale against South Africa sent the whole country into a whirlwind of despondency and despair. Those two powerfully contrasting images don’t tell the whole story, but they do capture the ups and downs of the host nation’s RWC.

Try of the tournament 

Melvyn Jaminet’s try to seal the game for France against New Zealand on opening night. Two minutes before the final whistle, the Toulouse full-back collected an overhead kick from Maxime Lucu in an acrobatic fashion to put the finishing touch to his side’s statement victory over the All Blacks.

Quote that said it all 

"We're calm because Antoine’s back." This laconic statement whispered with a smile by hooker Peato Mauvaka two days before the clash with South Africa spoke volumes about the importance of "Superdupont" among the French squad and the hopes that were raised by his return to the pitch after three weeks of rehabilitation from the fractured cheekbone he suffered against Namibia.

Man of the Moment

Antoine Dupont - who else? Les Bleus’ iconic captain only played two and a half games in this World Cup, but he remained a permanent focus of attention after his injury during their third pool match. Even before he was successfully operated on, and all through his rehab until the confirmation that he would take part in the quarter-final match against the Springboks, a whole country waited feverishly for news of Dupont’s health bulletins. Well, he did play against South Africa and shone throughout the game. But it didn’t prove enough.

One for the future

Louis Bielle-Biarrey - LBB for short. The 20-year-old winger has enjoyed a meteoric start to his test match career after winning his first cap back in August. By the end of the month, he was a last-minute choice for France's 33-man squad for the RWC. Everything pointed to him playing a minor role at best. He wasn’t among the match-day 23 who took on New Zealand, but from their second pool match against Uruguay, he took Gabin Villière’s spot on the left wing and never looked back. Four matches, four tries and 10 clean breaks (the second best of the tournament). LBB barely looked like had broken sweat in announcing his arrival. "It doesn't feel like I'm playing in a World Cup," he said after the win against Italy. The whizzkid certainly looked like he belonged though.

From the Touchline

During France and South Africa’s warm-up at the Stade de France, Fabien Galthié and Jacques Nienaber were seen hugging and having a chat for a few minutes on the pitch. Smiles were in order between two coaches who know and appreciate each other. Galthié spent two weeks with Munster Rugby back when Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus were in charge of the Irish province. When asked about Galthié’s short time with Munster before the quarter-final, Nienaber recalled sharing beers, games of football and, above all, enthralling rugby conversations with Les Bleus’ head coach.

Key statistics

74 points. Thomas Ramos is RWC 2023’s leading points scorer by a distance, so far. He has proved beyond doubt to be an extremely skilled goalkicker. During the whole of 2023, Ramos has never missed more than two kicks in a single match. Against South Africa in the quarter-finals, he landed five from seven attempts. Alas, much to his - and France’s - dismay, his most memorable conversion attempt was blocked by a supersonic Cheslin Kolbe.

Editor's verdict

After the final whistle against South Africa, Les Bleus  were distraught by the incredibly frustrating defeat they had just suffered. Much like Ireland, France were genuine contenders for the Webb Ellis Cup and the disappointment of their elimination was immense. While Uini Atonio and Romain Taofifénua, both 33, had already announced their retirement from test rugby, coach Fabien Galthié, whose contract runs until 2028, will remain at the helm to help his players develop and give them the experience they need to better manage major tournaments. Given their spirited display in this tournament, France will undoubtedly figure highly among the favourites for RWC 2027 in Australia in four years' time.

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