Analysis: The curious case of Antoine Dupont

In 34 minutes against England Antoine Dupont showed just why he has been touted as the next great French scrum-half since he first broke through as a teenager at Castres back in 2014.

In 34 minutes against England Antoine Dupont showed just why he has been touted as the next great French scrum-half since he first broke through as a teenager at Castres back in 2014.

Coming on against an England team that was completely dominant and on course for a huge victory, Dupont provided the spark France needed to take a little optimism into their Round Three clash with Scotland.

In the 44-8 defeat he managed the most line breaks of any player across the entire weekend with three, topped the offload charts with four and racked up 90.7 metres with ball in hand which put him fifth across the Championship according to the statistics provided by AWS.

From just looking at the numbers, a case can be made that he is in a different league to almost any scrum-half we have seen in terms of his threat with ball in hand.

He so far has two Test starts to his name, and in the first of those he managed more metres (91), clean breaks (4) and defenders beaten (7) than anyone on either side – and that was in a clash with the All Blacks in Paris.

Those are the sorts of numbers outside backs would be thrilled with, for a scrum-half they are almost unheard of.

He managed similar this season with Toulouse when he racked up 177 metres, six clean breaks and nine defenders beaten in a win over Perpignan, also chipping in with a second-half hat-trick albeit after he had shifted to fly-half.

Despite that, he has yet to start a game under Jacques Brunel, with the France coach having preferred to use him off the bench.

During last year’s Championship it was Maxime Machenaud who got the nod, with Dupont among the replacements against Ireland before suffering a serious knee injury.

In November Baptiste Serin was preferred as a starter, again Dupont came off the bench in all three games.

Finally in this year’s Guinness Six Nations it is Morgan Parra who has started both matches, with Dupont leapfrogging Serin in the pecking order in the Twickenham clash and shining as a replacement.

His performances pose the question as to why he is currently seen more as a bench option than a starter.

One reason would appear to be goal-kicking, with all three of Machenaud, Serin and Parra first-choice kickers with their clubs.

Although he can play fly-half and in fact came through the ranks as a ten, Dupont has never been a regular goal-kicker, which would make it trickier to pair him with Camille Lopez, who has not kicked as often since breaking his leg at the end of 2017.

It is not simply a question of goal-kicking though.

Dimitri Yachvili, the great France scrum-half of the 2000s who has now become a leading television analyst, told the Midi Olympique before the Championship that he preferred the style of Parra and Serin to Dupont.

He reasoned: “I was closer to a Parra or a Serin. Antoine Dupont has incredible physical qualities, but I don’t expect a scrum-half to race up and down the field and break tackles.

“I want a scrum-half to ensure his team wins through his sense of strategy, and from what I’ve seen at Clermont, Morgan Parra can do that.

“I’d like Dupont to manage the game more, to be more collective.”

That ability to run a game is the next challenge for Dupont, who is still only 22, having made his first-team debut for Castres when he was just 17.

The player himself believes he has improved in that regard, adjusting his game during an eight-month absence from the game with a torn ACL and not being as reliant on his remarkable physical abilities.

While Yachvili gave his backing to Parra before the Championship, another France great, Olivier Magne, believes Dupont has earned the starting role.

A four-time Grand Slam winner, Magne called for France to place their faith in youth after the defeat to Wales.

Les Bleus finished the clash with England with a half-back pairing of Dupont and Romain Ntamack, with that pairing perhaps in line to start against Scotland in Round Three.

That would be more likely if Thomas Ramos gets a first start at full-back, the 23-year-old is first choice kicker at Toulouse alongside Dupont.

Whether it is now or a little further down the line, it seems certain Dupont will get a shot at becoming France’s long-term starter at nine.

Given the likes of Serin, and his France Under-20s successors Baptiste Couilloud and Arthur Coville, the competition will be fierce.

But with a scrum-half as gifted as Dupont, France will be desperate to make the most of him.