Rugby World Cup: All Blacks, fans primed for 'clash of titans' against hosts to kickoff France 23

On the eve of the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks coach is relaxed, playing it cool in the sweltering French heat, despite the pressure mounting around him.  

The team is preparing for battle at Stade de France, where 80,000 people will pack in for a mouthwatering opening showdown.  

There are more than a few Kiwis pinching themselves in Paris at the moment and still it doesn’t feel any more real.

Once in a lifetime trips for grandads with granddaughters... for best friends... for the most diehard of diehard fans... and all with the same pre-game pep talk for the All Blacks.  

French coach Fabien Gaulthie & All Blacks counterpart Ian Foster.
French coach Fabien Gaulthie & All Blacks counterpart Ian Foster. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We just love you guys and no matter what happens, we will always be rooting for you."  

The good mood is contagious. Inspired by his French counterpart, All Blacks coach Ian Foster is basking in this moment, soaking up the occasion.  

"This game is special in its own right, I reckon," he said. "I think, of all my three World Cups, I’ve never seen a build-up like this one."  

The fans are loving it.  

Right now, it's all cheers and beers, but when these Kiwis pack into the stadium, they’re under no illusion.

The players are doing their best not to let the moment overwhelm...  

"Getting to put my last name on the world stage and also do it with this team, who I call my family too, I’m shaking just talking about it now," said All Blacks flanker Dalton Papali'i. "It just means so much." 

For those who share a last name - like the Whitelocks - the feeling never gets old.  

"It’s always a special moment to support him and have a quick word," said Adam Whitelock, brother of All Blacks lock Sam. 

Four World Cups in, they've backed black long enough to know not to panic. 

"I think they’ll do well," said dad Braeden Whitelock. "A wounded All Blacks team is a dangerous team."  

They’ll have to be. It's a clash of titans - France hasn't lost here at home since the start of 2021, while the All Blacks have never lost a pool match at a Rugby World Cup. 

The tournament is stacked with tough competition - South Africa are the defending champions, Ireland are Six Nations heroes and the hosts are out to make winning history. The All Blacks want to add to theirs.

"We just want to play," said Foster. "We’re ready to play and once the ref blows his whistle, let's just see what happens after that."  

Under the Parisian lights, in front of 80,000 fans at Stade de France, the All Blacks' seven-week journey to the top of the world is about to begin.

Join Newshub at 7am Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v France Rugby World Cup opener