France head coach Fabien Galthie believes Rugby World Cup 2023 will present a “fantastic challenge” for his team after being drawn alongside the All Blacks and Italy in Pool A.
The tournament hosts will face three-time winners New Zealand and Guinness Six Nations rivals Italy, along with teams from Americas 1 and Africa 1, in the pool stage.
Les Bleus and New Zealand have met only once before at the same stage, at the World Cup in 2011, when both teams made it all the way to final – won 8-7 by the All Blacks.
And Galthie cannot wait for his side to test themselves against the very best.
“It would be exciting to play against the All Blacks at home in the first match,” Galthie said.
“We love the All Blacks! We know that playing at home is going to be a fantastic challenge for each French player. It’s going to be a big motivation.
“But we know that sometimes you can have pressure when you are close to D-Day. We have to work on that, to prepare to be ready physically and mentally to play our best rugby.
“We need to be ready to play with the pressure but also have the freedom to play our best rugby.”
France will also face familiar rivals Italy in the 2023 tournament, a team they have historically had the edge over in their many meetings in Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
The Azzurri have come out on top against France just three times in their history, most recently in the 2013 Championship in Rome, and have been beaten twice by Galthie’s side in 2020.
France general Raphael Ibanez said: “We find ourselves in a tough pool with the prospect of facing New Zealand, a three-time world champion team, which can be considered as a world benchmark.
“It is an exciting prospect since it is a great challenge that awaits us. Fate very often brings our two nations together at the World Cup, there is a very beautiful story between us.
“There is a lot of respect and for us it’s a challenge. Afterwards, we face Italy, who are used to crossing paths during the Six Nations. It’s a difficult team to manoeuvre.
“We will have to show a lot of collective strength to overcome this kind of team.”
Les Bleus narrowly missed out on winning the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, finishing second behind England before a young France side lost to the Red Rose after extra-time in the Autumn Nations Cup final.
France captain Charles Ollivon was also excited about the prospect of facing New Zealand in the pool stage, saying it will be a great moment for the players, fans and the country.
“I’m very excited to play against the All Blacks, Italy and our other opponents,” he said.
“We are now waiting to know the order of the meetings and so to know who we are going to launch our adventure against. It’s a chance to be able to play New Zealand in the World Cup.
“It’s really huge! It’s going to be a great moment for the team, for the supporters, for France so we are going to prepare well for it and we will give everything!”
France have reached three Rugby World Cup finals, in 1987, 1999 and 2011, although each showpiece appearance has ended in defeat.
Ahead of the draw, French President Emmanuel Macron told the audience in Paris that he hoped Les Bleus could go one step further in 2023 and lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
“Every 12 years we are in the final of the World Cup,” Macron said.
“I did the calculations and it means that in 2023, that will be 12 years after our last final so, believe me, it’s 2023 and we need to bring the Cup home.”