When there’s a ‘petit général’ crouched down behind their heaving pack, all appears proper on this planet of French rugby.
From the diminutive Jacques Fouroux by way of to Pierre Berbizier, Fabien Galthié, Jean- Baptiste Elissalde and Dimitri Yachvili, it is a nation the place the scrum-half is the cornerstone of how they need to play the sport, the place the blue No9 shirt is revered above some other.
Not like in Eire, the place the out-half place has all the time been positioned on a pedestal, in French rugby, the No9 is seen because the marquee participant who calls the photographs, he’s the playmaker, the conductor-in-chief and it’s no coincidence that France has produced a daily stream of world-class scrum-halves whereas No10 has been one thing of an issue place through the years.
So, it feels considerably apt that it’s Galthié, the newest former scrum-half to teach his nation, who’s now constructing a crew to win the next World Cup, directing nationwide affairs with the calm authority he delivered to many distinguished years of service as a participant.
And key to Galthié’s mission is a wondrous expertise many now think about to be the very best scrum-half on this planet. Not simply that however some merely really feel that Antoine Dupont is the very best participant on the planet at current, as Tommy Bowe advised following his masterclass in opposition to Eire in Paris final October.
In a rustic that has produced a few of the best quantity nines the sport has seen, Dupont is heading in the right direction to eclipse all of them. His highlights reel is bulging and will get greater nearly each time he steps out onto a area. No marvel that he has been dubbed ‘the Messi of rugby’, as Midi Olympique, the biweekly bible of French rugby, lately referred to him in a gushing editorial.
‘Enable us to not conceal our pleasure to see France have one of many best possible gamers on the planet, if not the very best in 2020… Dupont is our Messi. The scrum-half is worthy of comparability to Barca’s nice Argentinian. The one who transcends the collective, makes others shine and, above all, adjustments the course of matches. (He) trivialises the extraordinary by bringing a contact of the elegant,’ Midi Olympique proclaimed.
Regardless of his 5ft 8in body, Dupont has change into a towering determine within the sport and if Andy Farrell desires to get his Eire mission again on monitor, he has to determine a way of curtailing Dupont’s influence within the Aviva this weekend. It has proved to be a process past most in the course of the 28 caps he has collected for France to date.
Born in Lannemezan within the Higher Pyrenees, Dupont grew up within the close by Castelnau-Magnoac, a small village of lower than 1,000 individuals the place his household have a restaurant. He began rugby on the age of 4 for the native facet however by the point he was eight, he was misplaced to soccer as, certainly one of his early coaches informed Midi Olympique, he was discovering rugby too straightforward. They moved him up age-grades and his improvement continued at a fast tempo.
In 2011, he joined Auch, 42km from his house village, as a cadet earlier than shifting to Castres three years later, the place he made his first-team debut as a precocious 17-year-old and was already marked out as a future half-back for France. It was whereas there that Irish followers bought their first glimpse of this particular expertise, as a buzzing and energetic 20-year-old who brought on Leinster all method of issues throughout a European Cup attract January 2017.
That spectacular efficiency in opposition to Leinster got here only some months after he had starred within the under-20 world championship for an in any other case unimpressive French facet. Dupont scored 36 factors, together with 5 tries, regardless that his crew didn’t make it out of their pool.
He made his full worldwide debut within the 2017 Six Nations, coming off the bench in victories over Italy and Wales earlier than making his first Take a look at begin in opposition to the All Blacks within the autumn internationals later that yr. And regardless of New Zealand cantering to a 38-18 win in Paris, Dupont nonetheless got here throughout as top-of-the-line gamers on the sphere, making extra clear breaks and beating extra defenders than anybody else within the sport.
He delivered his thrilling show in opposition to the Kiwis following a giant transfer in the summertime of 2017 when he joined Toulouse, the giants of French rugby who had fallen right into a little bit of a rut. Greater than anybody else, Dupont has roused them from their slumber, taking part in an integral half after they received their first High 14 title in seven years — and their twentieth total — in 2019.
His means in working the sport for Toulouse was all of the extra noteworthy, provided that he needed to spend 9 months on the sidelines after rupturing his cruciate ligament throughout a Six Nations sport in opposition to Eire in 2018.
Following Dupont’s star flip in opposition to Racing 92 within the High 14 closing, his Kiwi team-mate Jerome Kaino advised that he was destined to go down as one of many all-time greats.
‘It’s loopy to see the best way he performs, given his age. He’s a distinct kind of half-back, extra like a unfastened ahead/centre. He’s fairly robust for his dimension and likes to again himself,’ Kaino mentioned on the time.
‘He’s positively up there as top-of-the-line scrum-halves I’ve performed with, when it comes to uncooked expertise and potential, It’s superb to see how he performed after such a critical damage.’
His coach at membership stage, Ugo Mola, went even additional when he spoke to Le Parisien final yr. ‘I usually say that he was born simply to play this sport,’ he mentioned. ‘He has self-confidence in his means but additionally a willingness to proceed to find and be taught. Antoine has the calibre of a champion.’
Even when France in the end disenchanted within the 2019 World Cup, Dupont had a nice event and when Galthié took over from Jacques Brunel as head coach, he determined that the dynamic Dupont and the 20-year-old Romain Ntamack can be the half-back pairing that might lead France into the 2023 World Cup they had been internet hosting.
Dupont has thrived below Galthié and the additional accountability. He was sensational in final yr’s Six Nations win over England, capping off his efficiency with a try-saving deal with close to the top. His electrical shows noticed him the primary French participant named Participant of the Championship for the reason that inception of the Six Nations.
As he confirmed with Les Bleus in Rome final weekend, he’s choosing up the place he left off. In France, forward of the World Cup, he’s already changing into the primary rugby participant whose fame reaches far past the game since that charismatic man-mountain Sebastian Chabal.
Nevertheless, at solely 24 and given the progress of his profession, Dupont could also be extra like Zinedine Zidane when he passes on the long-lasting No9 jersey.
When the French come to an empty Aviva Stadium this Sunday, we received’t simply be watching the newest of their great line of petit générales, however the one who could lead this younger, thrilling crew all the best way to the highest of the world.