New Zealand will dive straight into the deep end when they open their bid for a fourth World Cup title against hosts France in the opening game of the 2023 tournament, according to the fixture schedule revealed Friday.
The All Blacks, champions in 1987, 2011 and 2015, face Les Bleus at the Stade de France in Paris on September 8, the first day of the gruelling seven-week tournament.
The final will be at the Stade de France on October 28.
New Zealand and France are in Pool A along with Six Nations whipping boys Italy and two qualifiers – one from the Americas and one from Africa – and are expected to comfortably make the quarter-finals.
The winner of the group will face the runner-up of Pool B, a tough section which features defending champions South Africa, Ireland and Scotland.
France and the All Blacks have met eight times at the World Cup.
In 2011, New Zealand won their pool clash 37-17 before edging the final in Auckland 8-7.
The French can boast two wins over the triple world champions at the tournament — 43-31 in the 1999 semi-finals and 20-18 in the last eight in 2007.
Both games are regarded as modern classics.
“France v New Zealand, I’ve been dreaming of it since I started working on the World Cup. The best possible match, we’ll have it on the first day. It will allow us to start the competition, to provide a benchmark of attractiveness,” Claude Atcher, director general of the organising committee, told AFP.
“It’s a very special match, in a very special context. No room for error.
“Without insulting our Italian cousins, it will be difficult for Italy to challenge these two teams for second place in the pool.”
South Africa start their defence against Scotland on September 10 at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.
The team of Cheslin Kolbe and Siya Kolisi face Ireland on September 23 at the Stade de France.
Ireland and Scotland meet also in Paris on October 7.
England, the 2003 world champions, begin their Pool D campaign against Argentina in Marseille on September 9, the second day of the tournament.
Japan, also in Pool D, start in Toulouse the following day against an America zone qualifier.
Pool C sees Wales and Australia as favourites to progress but they will be wary of the challenge of Fiji who they meet respectively on September 10 in Bordeaux and September 17 in Saint-Etienne.
In total, the 2023 World Cup features 48 matches and nine host cities — Paris, Marseille, Nice, Lille, Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux, Saint-Etienne and Nantes.
“Each city hosts at least one of the teams which qualified for the quarter-finals in Japan in 2019,” said Atcher.