France star Antoine Dupont paid tribute to his side’s passionate supporters after being named the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship.
The scrum-half picked up 46% of the public vote having been named on a shortlist of six – three of which were Frenchmen – by an expert panel of distinguished rugby writers, former players and broadcasters from across the six participating countries.
The French public helped roar their side on to a famous Round 1 victory over England at the Stade de France and, though they had to watch the Super Saturday win against Ireland from home, Dupont insisted his side had felt the weight of their backing throughout.
“We felt there was a passion behind the team,” he said.
“We saw it during the Championship, with the games against England and Ireland selling out two months beforehand. That hadn’t happened for a long time.
“We felt there was enthusiasm from the fans and all rugby supporters for this team, who they wanted to see shine.
“I think we pleased them during the Championship, and we had a great time on the pitch and it’s the same for them in front of their TVs.
“Thank you, not necessarily for the vote, but for the support we received.
“Even though the fans weren’t in the ground, we felt the support from distance, whether it was on social media, or through the broadcast numbers, we felt there was support behind us and we want to thank them for that.”
The 23-year-old formed an incisive partnership with fly-half Romain Ntamack, who was also among the Player of the Championship nominees – as was Gregory Alldritt after a series of influential displays in the back row.
And while Dupont expressed his pride at winning the ultimate prize, he was keen to share the credit around the team following an impressive tournament.
“Of course, I was delighted,” he said.
“But I was already delighted to see that there were three Frenchmen on the shortlist. That is a reward for all the work we put into the Championship, which was really positive.
“It’s true that before the first game against England we didn’t know where we stood. There was a lot of apprehension in the squad because we were inexperienced and we weren’t favourites.
“In the end it went well and finished well, even though of course we’d have liked a bit more. But it’s good.”
France only missed out on claiming their first Championship since 2010 on points difference after winning four of their five matches over the course of an elongated campaign.
That tally included a first win in Cardiff for a decade, which Dupont earmarked as one of his highlights of this year’s tournament.
“The first big moment was the first match against England, where we played a complete game in front of a packed stadium,” he said.
“Then there is the match in Wales. Winning over there, which we hadn’t done for ten years, in the cauldron that is Cardiff, that was a landmark moment for the squad.
“It’s in those moments that you create strong bonds.”
Dupont went on to admit this season’s performances exceeded French expectations and there could be plenty more to come from the current squad, many of whom – like Dupont – appear to have their best days ahead of them.
“We know where we’ve come from. This year we didn’t expect to challenge for the top spots, even if there was ambition,” he said.
“It’s given us a taste of victory and we always want more, but there is work to do.
“There will be some very good teams next year, as there are every year, so it will be tough.”