At 9pm on the 8th of September 2023 at the Stade de France in Paris, France and New Zealand will kick off the tenth edition of the Rugby World Cup. This is not the first time that France have hosted the biggest tournament on the rugby calendar - but it is this first time that they will be going into the tournament as favorites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
France first hosted the pinnacle of international rugby in 1991 – the second ever World Cup. This was in partnership with England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland and the structure reflected the numerous hosts. The group stages were split across the countries, with the host nations mainly featuring on home soil. Pool A, containing England, saw games played in London, Leicester, Gloucester and Otley. Pool B, housing Scotland and Ireland, was hosted in Dublin and Edinburgh with one game played in Belfast. Pool C, showcasing Wales, spanned across Cardiff, Pontypool, Pontypridd and Llanelli. France’s Pool D took place across Agen, Bayonne, Brive, Grenoble and Toulouse. France also had the privilege of hosting two of the four Quarter Finals, with one in Lille and the second (which featured France) at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Unfortunately for the French, this was a game they will likely want to forget after they were dumped out of their own tournament following defeat by England. A theme that has become somewhat of a trend…
Not content with hosting a World Cup in partnership with their neighboring unions, in 2001 France launched a bid to host the sixth edition of the tournament and won the right to host in 2007. Although France won the right to host the tournament, four games were hosted in Cardiff and two in Edinburgh. The remaining 48 games were spread across ten different stadiums in France with the business end of the tournament, Semi Finals onwards, all taking place at the Stade de France in Paris. The tournament did not get off to the start the French wanted as they crashed and burned, losing 17-12 to Argentina and becoming only the second host nation to lose the opening match of the tournament in history. This upset condemned them to second place in Pool D and left them with the prospect of facing the winners of Pool C, tournament favorites and world number ones, New Zealand. However, the French recovered from their shock opening defeat to produce the display of the tournament, overcoming New Zealand 20-18 to reach a home Semi Final and setting up a rematch of their 2003 defeat at the same stage, against old foes England. Unfortunately, the French again came unstuck at the hands (or rather, boot) of a certain Mr Wilkinson and for the second World Cup a row, and the second home World Cup in a row, they lost 14-9 to England.
And so we come to the third edition of the Rugby World Cup in France and for the first time in history, the French enter the tournament as many pundits’ pick to win the whole thing. This time, can they make it all the way? They won’t have it easy; their first game is against the formidable All Blacks and there is the chance that they could meet the thorn in their side, England, again in the Semi Finals. Time will tell but the suspense is already palpable.