There is no better place than France to celebrate rugby's 200th birthday, said World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont as Rugby World Cup 2023 opened in rousing and spectacular style at the Stade de France on Friday.
Rugby is commemorating 200 years of the sport this year and the celebrations took place during a fantastic opening ceremony of Rugby World Cup 2023, which is being hosted by France.
The ceremony happened on Friday at the Stade de France before the first match of the tournament between France, roared on by a vociferous home crowd, and three-time winners New Zealand.
Sir Bill Beaumont made a speech to honour the occasion and said: "It was 200 years ago that our great sport was born and there could be no greater place to celebrate our birthday than here in France, home to some of our most passionate fans and playing legends.
"We know that you will be magnificent hosts in the coming weeks, in stadiums, in your villages, towns and cities and in your hearts!"
Rugby World Cup 2023, which will run until 28 October, is set to be the most competitive edition of the tournament since it began in 1987.
Chile are competing at their first Rugby World Cup, Portugal are back in the tournament for the first time since 2007 and Ireland head into the competition as the world's number one team for the first time. With England being the only northern-hemisphere team to lift the coveted Webb Ellis Cup, New Zealand, reigning champions South Africa, two-time winners Australia and Argentina will be aiming to keep it down south.
If Scotland can emerge from a tough pool, they will be serious contenders for the title, while Wales cannot be discounted with head coach Warren Gatland back at the helm. Then there's the Pacific Island threat of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga... this will be a Rugby World Cup for the ages.
There are also high hopes for hosts France, who are bidding to win the trophy for the first time after appearing in three Rugby World Cup finals. France's President Emmanuel Macron was present at the opening ceremony and had encouraging words for his country's team.
"Naturally, France is hoping to win this World Cup on the pitch, but also in the hearts of everyone who has come to celebrate our shared passion," he said.
"With our taste for hospitality. With our excellent facilities, our fans. With the enthusiasm of our schoolchildren and young people. From Nice to Lille, from Saint-Étienne to Toulouse, France will be the arena for the three halves of rugby.
"Rugby fans all over the world know about our French Flair. This year, in 2023, we will show our French Share: our art of sharing, conviviality and fraternity."
And Sir Bill Beaumont finished his speech with a sentiment shared by fans and players alike: "The waiting is over. You have made this tournament an historic moment.
"The stage is set. We are ready. The teams are ready."