France ready for ‘wonderful’ World Cup opener with New Zealand – Fabien Galthie

France head coach Fabien Galthie has described Friday’s opening match against New Zealand in Paris as “a wonderful celebration”.

Galthie, who has transformed Les Bleus into genuine contenders since taking on the role in 2020, said he could not have picked a better opponent than the All Blacks for the hosts in their first match.

The former France scrum-half said: “What could be better than New Zealand?

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is a team that hasn’t lost a match in the qualifying (pool) phase since the World Cup began. Ever. 31 wins.

“This is a team that has three World Cup titles to its name, a team that has just won the last competition it took part in, the Four Nations (Rugby Championship).

“We’re so happy to be playing them that Friday’s match is a celebration, a joy, a great joy for us. It’s wonderful.”

Under Galthie, France have been Six Nations’ runners-up on three occasions and in 2022 won the Grand Slam for the first time in 12 years.

They have lost only once on home soil with Galthie at the helm – to Scotland in 2021 – and are second favourites behind New Zealand to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.

France were beaten finalists in 1987, 1999 and 2011, two of those against New Zealand who are bidding for a record fourth triumph.

The All Blacks, winners in 1987, 2011 and 2015, have failed to win the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship just twice in the last 12 years.

But their 11-match unbeaten run came to a juddering halt when slipping to the heaviest defeat in their history at Twickenham last month, losing 35-7 to defending world champions South Africa.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, who insisted camp morale remained high, said: “We have had a good preparation and a great Rugby Championship.

“If you look at the performances against Australia and South Africa, suddenly we are World Cup favourites. Then we don’t do very well at Twickenham and we are the worst All Blacks side ever.

“This French team have been playing some great rugby over the last two years, everyone can see them building.

“We have also seen them put under pressure and have to deal with expectation and the crowd.

“Part of World Cups is the mental side, about having the confidence and courage to play the game you need to play at the right time. It is only when it all starts we will see where people are at.”