If the 2020 Guinness Six Nations was all about announcing himself to the world, then 2021 was the year Antoine Dupont proved his class was no one-off.
With New Zealand World Cup winner Aaron Smith and England centurion Ben Youngs in his corner, Dupont certainly hasn’t lacked for backing before, during and after this Championship.
He was, after all, Player of the Championship 12 months ago, becoming the first Frenchman to win the award.
Fast forward to now and very little has changed.
A creative hub for his team, a menace with ball in hand, and a man whose athleticism kept defences on the back foot, Dupont’s talent is there for all to see.
Only now he has extra expectation to deal with.
Being named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match in the opening game of the Championship saw the 24-year-old set his stall out early, running the show in France’s 50-10 win in Italy.
The talented scrum-half set up all three first-half tries for the visitors as they stormed into a 24-3 half-time lead in Rome.
Dylan Cretin, Gaël Fickou and Arthur Vincent were the men who profited from Dupont’s vision before capping off the performance with a try of his own in the second half.
Setting up Teddy Thomas gave him four assists in the match to go alongside his four carries, 62 metres, two tackle breaks and two offloads. The gauntlet was well and truly thrown down.
One week on and Dupont was instrumental in helping France claim their first Guinness Six Nations win in Dublin for ten years in an absorbing battle with Ireland.
His break helped set up captain Charles Ollivon to score in the left corner, with one moment of magic worth its weight in gold in the only score of the first half.
Dupont – the architect of so much brilliance – made a scything break from midfield, carrying the ball into Ireland’s 22, trading passes with Damian Penaud before France did what they do so well and so often.
With two wins from two, and a pair of superb performances to boot, surely Dupont’s tight grip on the Guinness Six Nations had to stop at some stage?
After all, by the time they were next in action – against England at Twickenham, of all places – surely the rustiness of no playing action for a month would see him lose his spark?
Less than 80 seconds of rugby later and that myth was dispelled.
Teddy Thomas’ deft chip forwards from 20 metres out was brilliantly chased by Dupont, and the scrum-half clawed it out of the air and touched the ball down to score.
France were unable to hold out for a win that would have kept their Grand Slam hopes alive but their Championship bid was far from over.
Come Round 5, everything was on the line – and a man who made his Guinness Six Nations debut aged just 20 wasn’t going to sit in the peripheries.
A scintillating opening 20 minutes against Wales in Paris saw the two title contenders score two tries apiece, with Dupont getting France’s second after being fed by Matthieu Jalibert.
An all-action match needed someone pulling the strings and the man from Castelnau-Magnoac certainly delivered – and had the pleasure of watching the late drama unfold from the sidelines.
A Championship unlike any other was never going to have a normal ending with France and Scotland going toe-to-toe on the final Friday of action.
And while Dupont and France didn’t end up on the right end of the result, either on the night or in the final standings, that does very little to dampen his effect on the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
Just three players – all of whom are wingers – beat his haul of three tries across the Championship, but nobody could match Dupont when it came to his five assists, four in one match alone.
The heart and soul of everything they do, France’s style of play has become a joy to watch over the past two editions of Rugby’s Greatest Championship. And this supremely talented 24-year-old is largely the man to thank.