Grand Slam Defining Moment: France turn to Dupont – the man for the big occasion

If the best players are those who show up in the biggest moments, then Antoine Dupont can certainly count himself among them.

If the best players are those who show up in the biggest moments, then Antoine Dupont can certainly count himself among them.

Over the last four years, Dupont has been named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship on three occasions as well as taking the title of World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year in 2021.

The France captain is almost universally acknowledged as one of the game’s greats and is set to win his 50th Test cap when he leads his team out on home soil in the Rugby World Cup opener against New Zealand at the Stade de France on Friday night.

It is a ground where he has shone time and again, both domestically and for France, not least when captaining the team to a record win over the All Blacks two years ago.

His finest moment in Saint-Denis, however, came in 2022 when he led France to a first Grand Slam in 12 years.

Under Fabien Galthié, Les Bleus had twice fallen short in their quest for a Guinness Six Nations title, denied by England on points difference in 2020 before having to settle for being runners-up to Wales the following year.

However, in 2022, they beat Italy in their opening game before victories over Ireland, Scotland and Wales left them on the cusp of glory.

All that stood between them and the title was England, their biggest rivals and a side with nothing to lose.

France, by contrast, knew that not only did they need to win to claim the Grand Slam. Ireland’s bonus-point success over Scotland meant that Les Bleus would miss out on the Championship altogether should they lose to England.

While there were some early nerves on show from the hosts, they hit the front thanks to Gaël Fickou’s try on the quarter-hour, and a second on the stroke of half-time from François Cros meant France led 18-6 at the break.

England enjoyed their best period of the game immediately after half-time, and got back into it when Freddie Steward burst over, Marcus Smith’s conversion made it a five-point game.

If those nerves were going to get the better France, this was it, but instead, when his team needed him most, Dupont spotted his moment.

With 20 minutes left and the game in the balance, France worked their way up to the England 22, probing and trying to find a way through.

It came after a powerful carry from Romain Taofifenua with a rapid pick-and-go from Grégory Alldritt. The No.8 played age-group rugby alongside Dupont in Auch, and that relationship remains as strong as ever, with Dupont instantly recognising the opportunity.

As Alldritt was stopped, Dupont popped up on his shoulder, collected the deft offload, brushed off two would-be tacklers and sprinted over for the try. With the simple conversion for Melvyn Jaminet, France were suddenly 12 points clear and on their way to a 25-13 success.

The final whistle brought with it tears of emotion for Dupont, usually so reserved but clearly this time overwhelmed at the enormity of what the side had achieved.

Now, the 26-year-old will be tasked with providing a few more magic moments as France seek a first-ever World Cup title. Despite a couple of injuries, they will go in as one of the main contenders, and in Dupont, they have the man for the big occasion.