Rugby World Cup: All Blacks assistant Jason Ryan claims rare underdog status for opening showdown against France

All Blacks assistant coach Jason Ryan has fired the first shots in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup opener on Saturday, claiming a unique underdog status against hosts France.

New Zealand traditionally enter the rugby showpiece among the hottest of favourites to take out the title and have delivered on that promise three times previously - including both their two home tournaments, and twice in succession in 2011 and 2015.

By contrast, 'Les Bleus' have never won the crown, despite reaching the final three times - two at Eden Park - and expectations are high that this could be their year at home.

French fans cheer for their national team.
French fans cheer for their national team. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ryan seems happy to heap that pressure on his opponents, as the All Blacks try to fly under the radar.

"I think we can," insisted Ryan. "On the home nation, the pressure is massive.

"We've heard through our boys a little bit over the last couple of days, who have been involved in a few World Cups. For some, this will be their fourth and they've talked about that.

"We'll use that as a bit of energy. They've got a few dings, we've got a few dings as well... it should be a hell of a contest in a very special stadium."

At home, the All Blacks are still favoured to win, with the TAB offering a $3.50 payout, compared to France $4 and South Africa $4.50, but New Zealand lag behind those two rivals in fourth on world rankings.

Incredibly, Ireland ($5.50) occupy No.1 on the rankings - a position they've held since defeating the All Blacks at home last year - but seem relatively unfancied, given their inability to progress past previous World Cup quarter-finals.

In France, Ryan expects support for the local team will reach fever pitch, but expectations will weigh heavily.

"There will always be noise on any international team, especially the opening game of a Rugby World Cup, but France is a little bit different," he said. "They're tremendously passionate in how they support their team and I'm sure it's going to be some atmosphere there.

"We're just looking forward to embracing that and not getting too overawed by it."

Anytime the All Blacks face the host nation in a World Cup will generate a unique atmosphere and Ryan admits the NZ team had a taste of that, when they sold out Twickenham against South Africa two weeks ago. He's also seen how French fans support their clubs in the local competition.

All Blacks welcomed to the Rugby World Cup at Lyon.
All Blacks welcomed to the Rugby World Cup at Lyon. Photo credit: Photosport

"I've watched a couple of games in the Top 14 over the last couple of years, and just how the crowds and everyone gets behind it," he said. "New Zealand fans can be a little bit dry - we're sitting there and don't make a noise - but the French get right into it.

"They're singing, there'll be a couple of vinos in the stand and they'll be embracing it - it will be so electric. That's probably the special thing about France and the people, how enthusiastic they are and how passionate they are.

"That's the way they play - they're a little bit freestyle - and that's why this World Cup will be a little bit different to others. The country's really embracing it." 

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