Last year’s Guinness Six Nations may have been one of the closest winning margins in history but when it came to the Player of the Championship, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Antoine Dupont dazzled and delighted from start to finish in 2020, with the diminutive scrum-half’s performances catching the eye week after week, as he helped France to within a whisker of winning a first Championship since 2010.
Whether it was a quick step here, or a no-look pass there, the Toulouse man was almost impossible to stop when he was on the pitch, as he helped spearhead Les Bleus’ incredible attacking performances.
At only 23-years-old, it was a coming-of-age Championship for Dupont, who quickly established himself as one of the best in the world, as we have seen for much of the following year with a string of high-profile performances in the blue of his country.
Dupont dominates in Le Crunch
All eyes were on Paris in Round 1 of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, as France hosted England at Stade de France in front of a rapturous crowd of 60,000 – and expectations were high.
With La Marseillaise ringing around the terraces the atmosphere was at fever pitch, and as ever, Dupont rose to the occasion with a seamless performance from the No.9 role.
His quick ball from the breakdown set up Vincent Rattez for the opening score of the game via the hands of Romain Ntamack, before his high kick caught England out to leave Charles Ollivon the space to run clear and get the second score of the game.
But the precocious talent left his best involvement until last, as he grabbed the ball in the midfield before leaving the England defence for dead with a run to the left wing.
With Jonny May the only man left in his way, Dupont still had the presence of mind to look inside to pick out Ollivon once again, who crossed for his second score to make it 24-0 just after the break.
You just have to look at the numbers to see just how impressive he was that day – with 50 metres run with the ball, two clean breaks and seven defenders beaten – with no one as influential as he in that outstanding victory on home turf.
Antoine continues to amaze
Dupont was at it once again in a 35-22 victory over Italy in Round 2, with his looping pass to the left wing setting up Gregory Alldritt for the third try of the game, while his effervescent performance kept the Azzurri trying to second guess his every move.
The No.9 was pulling the Azzurri this way and that as he dictated the French attack from halfback, with another 85 metres gained in possession as well as a couple of clean breaks to leave the Italian defence grasping at thin air.
It was a similar story in Cardiff in the Championship’s midway point, as Les Bleus continued to sweep aside all that became before them with a 27-23 win in the Welsh capital.
Dupont’s quick-thinking, quick passing, and even quicker feet were forever causing havoc for the Wales defence, with his vision often creating chances for his teammates to break forward, as they did for much of the game at Principality Stadium.
Three wins out of three and France were flying, with Dupont the man pulling the strings going forward – the master puppeteer to Les Bleus’ dynamic displays with ball in hand – but a 28-17 defeat to Scotland in Round 4 ended their dreams of a Grand Slam.
Dupont flourishes in Championship finale
After that defeat in Edinburgh, Dupont and his teammates had to wait more than seven months to play their final match of the Championship due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but once he got back on the field it was like he had never been away.
It took the scrum-half just seven minutes into the Round 5 showdown with Ireland to get back on the scoresheet, as he had the presence of mind to back up Gael Fickou after the winger had made a burst down the left flank.
With hopes of a Championship victory still alive, France were giving their all to force the 31-point swing that they needed to topple England at the top of the standings, and another piece of Dupont magic gave them even more hope of achieving that feat just after the break.
It was Fickou once again who broke free, before chipping over the defence for Dupont to collect, and just as it looked as if he was heading down a blind alley, he popped a perfect ball up for halfback partner Ntamack to touch down.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Dupont showed why he is considered one of the best in the game, as he shone on the highest stage and thrived off the pressure.
Ultimately, it wasn’t to be for France in 2020, as they missed out on points difference to England in the narrowest of Championship winning margins, but while eyes were on Eddie Jones’ side lifting the trophy there was only one name on most rugby fans’ lips after last year’s Championship.
Dupont’s performances lit up the Guinness Six Nations stage for much of last year, and as his halfback partnership with Ntamack continues to develop, we can expect to be treated to much of the same for years to come.