Rugby World Cup: All Blacks seek big bounceback against France, after record defeat to South Africa at Twickenham

Record defeat to South Africa two weeks ago may yet prove the best possible preparation for the All Blacks, as they approach their Rugby World Cup opener against hosts France on Saturday (NZ time).

The 35-7 demolition at Twickenham brought back bad memories of a 2022 campaign that included historic losses to Ireland and Argentina at home, and had coach Ian Foster hanging onto his job by the skin of his teeth.

New Zealand entered the fixture with a chance of snatching the world No.1 ranking before the global tournament, but instead, they tumbled to fourth, giving many pause to reconsider their favouritism for a fourth world crown.

All Blacks line up for anthems at Twickenham.
All Blacks line up for anthems at Twickenham. Photo credit: Getty Images

The result snapped an 11-game unbeaten run that began after their first-ever loss on home soil to the Pumas at Christchurch last August, but they responded to that setback with a 50-point thrashing at Hamilton seven days later. 

That scoreline served as a reminder that All Blacks teams rarely play badly in consecutive games, something the French will be acutely aware of at Paris.

"From my knowledge of All Black teams, when they lose, they hurt," said assistant coach Scott McLeod. "No matter who they play, when they lose, they hurt a lot... they don't like losing and they want to rectify that.

"That will be our motivation, first and foremost. We want to perform a lot better than we did and that's what we've been building towards.

"France just adds to that motivation in terms of being the the host nation, a Tier 1 team and one of our great opponents. That all combines to the motivation that's been built."

McLeod can draw on a 10-game international career as a midfielder from 1996-98 and replaced Wayne Smith on the All Blacks coaching staff in June 2017, specialising in defence.

"The players' ears open and they seek more feedback," he continued on the losing theme. "They don't want to let the jersey down again, so they work a little harder, they do a little more homework and make sure they get things right.

"The legacy of the jersey... means a great deal to the players and they don't want to let that down."

The tournament opener will also mark the eighth time New Zealand and France have met on the World Cup stage - a record for the All Blacks - with many of those clashes among the most famous in the history of the event.

The NZ team have twice beaten the French in World Cup finals - both at Eden Park - but perhaps the most memorable - and painful - were losses in the 1999 semi-finals and 2007 quarter-finals. 

"We've always known French rugby teams to be full of flair," said McLeod. "Now they seem to have put in just a little bit of structure around that flair and it's made them a very dangerous side.

France celebrate  their 2007 quarter-final win over the All Blacks.
France celebrate their 2007 quarter-final win over the All Blacks.

"They have threats all across the park, because of that flair, and now they're putting the ball into space and utilising their skills. It's not easy to analyse, but we've focused on what we can do and make sure we're in the right places."

With a two-week layoff, All Blacks management have had to pace their preparation, as the big day nears.

"Because of our last performance and we had that time in Germany, it seems like we've had a really long build-up," said McLeod. "It's been thorough and it's been really good, but we've had to almost hold the players back a little bit.

"They've really wanted to go, but they can't, they'll burn themselves out, so we've had to hold them back."

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

More to come