PARIS: French officials were buzzing in anticipation when the 2023 Rugby World Cup draw was made on Monday and although the tournament is nearly three years away, they have made plans to cover every eventuality.
Three-star chef Guy Savoy drew hosts France with perennial favourites and triple world champions New Zealand in Pool A at a ceremony opened by president Emmanuel Macron at the former Stock Exchange in central Paris.
France could take on South Africa or Ireland in the quarter-finals, with Australia looming as possible semifinal opponents.
The French will play the tournament's opening game but organisers said they needed time to decided who they will face.
"Obviously, fans would love to see France vs New Zealand as the opening game but we also need to keep the interest of the competition alive throughout of the Pool phase," France 2023 CEO Claude Atcher told a news conference.
"I know it's what fans would want," said France scrumhalf Antoine Dupont.
Italy are also possible opponents for the curtain-riser which organisers are confident will be played in a festive atmosphere - far from the gloom of a coronavirus-ravaged 2020.
"France is a rugby-loving country. We are preparing for this event at a very tough time. The nation is behind France. Everyone is suffering at the moment with us. The COVID-19 crisis is terrible," Macron said.
"In 2023, we want to offer the best of France: the French way of life - friendliness, gastronomy, parties and culture."
Tickets will go on sale in March, 2021. Prices will start at €15 for non-France matches and €30 for France games.
Should the pandemic not be over, however, organisers have taken out insurance.
"If in 2023 we are still unsure if people will be back in stadiums we will have bigger problems than the Rugby World Cup. We do have cancellation insurance in the event of a pandemic," Atcher said.
"The World Cup starts now. We now know who's facing who," said French federation president Bernard Laporte.
"New Zealand are one of the best teams in the world, there's nothing new. The only advantage (in playing them in the Pool phase) is that you can only face them again in the final," he joked.
Coach Fabien Galthie, under whose guidance Les Bleus have regained pride by winning seven of nine tests in 2020, is confident playing the World Cup on home soil will boost his team.
"To play at home is going to be a fantastic challenge for each player who plays for France," he said.
"It's going to be a big motivation... We will be ready to play our best rugby. There will be pressure but we'll have the freedom to play our best." – Reuters