From Paul Eddison at the Stade de France, Paris
France kicked off their home World Cup by handing New Zealand a first-ever defeat in the pool stages but skipper Antoine Dupont believes they were not close to their best.
It is hard to argue with the world’s best player, who was also kept under a watchful eye by the All Blacks for large periods.
In the end though, France were able to squeeze the life out of their opponents, putting a second-minute Mark Telea try behind them and pulling away for a 27-13 success.
The All Blacks were much the more dangerous side in the first half, but it was France’s discipline that allowed Thomas Ramos to give them a 9-8 lead at the break.
But even after downing their biggest rivals in Pool A by two clear scores, Dupont was far from satisfied.
He said: “When you look at the scoreboard, it’s incredible to score nearly 30 points against the All Blacks. But I think what drives us to improve is that we know we can play better.
“For a match which we thought was average from us, we still scored nearly 30 points, so that is positive.
“We were a little inhibited early in the match. We didn’t manage to put three phases together. There were a few times when we didn’t play collectively, not necessarily by being selfish but the occasion maybe got to us.
“We didn’t always make the extra pass that we usually do. That is what helps us to develop our game and is what we needed to do in the second half, without moving away from the defence and the set-piece that allowed us to stay in the match.”
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The bigger question marks will be for the All Blacks, who started both halves with Telea tries but were eventually suffocated by France – as the crowd experienced similar in the stifling heat.
Coach Ian Foster was not unduly concerned, but admits there are several areas where his team will have to improve if they are to emulate South Africa in 2019 in winning a World Cup despite losing a pool match.
He said: “It’s a heck of an opening game for a World Cup. It was everything we anticipated, a French team who threw a lot at us, a great crowd, a great build-up and congratulations to France, I thought they were the better team on the night.
“I was satisfied with a lot of things that we did but they managed to squeeze us, territory and possession and especially in that last quarter, they forced us to play under a lot of pressure.”