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Eddie Jones couldn't resist a pre-Six Nations swipe at France

By PA
(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

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While England will launch their title quest away to Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5, Eddie Jones was keen to take a swipe at their final round opponents France at the official Guinness Six Nations launch on Wednesday. Les Bleus are strong favourites as they continue building for their home World Cup in 2023 and have appointed scrum-half magician Antoine Dupont as captain for the championship.

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“Dupont is a very good player and it’s a big call to make him captain because the nines have got a lot on their plate,” said Jones ahead of a 2022 Six Nations where England will visit Paris to take on France in round five on March 19.

“But obviously head coach Fabian Galthie thinks he can handle that and it’s certainly not for me to tell him what to do. As you know, being a Frenchman, you are sitting at the top of the tree in the Six Nations, you are red-hot favourites. 

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“You are expected to win. If you don’t win the French rugby public’s going to be disappointed. You have shown what great depth you have got in French rugby in last year’s development tour to Australia when the results were amazing.

“And then you have got the luxury of having 43 players in camp, so your grandmaster of French rugby, Bernard Laporte (French Rugby Federation president) has done a great job in getting the clubs to work with the French union, so you don’t have any excuses. All of that comes with a price and I’m sure Antoine is going to be able to handle it.”

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France have not won the Six Nations since 2010 and their title challenge last year ended in misery when Scotland defeated them at the Stade de France to leave Wales as champions. Preparations for their latest campaign have been severely disrupted by a host of withdrawals from Fabien Galthie’s 42-man squad.

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In addition to world player of the year Dupont and fly-half Ntamack, Francois Cros, Gaetan Barlot, Anthony Jelonch, Cyril Baille, Bernard Le Roux and Pierre Bourgarit were also removed due to Covid-19. 

We keep in touch with all the players from afar, of course,” said Galthie, whose side begin the championship at home to Italy on February 6. “We have good news concerning the players and their state of health and spirit and all are doing well.”

Toulouse scrum-half Dupont has not played since December 11 due to a combination of postponements, fatigue and injury. The 25-year-old could be involved in his club’s game at home to Racing 92 on Saturday as he seeks to regain sharpness ahead of a likely return to international duty.

Speaking specifically about Dupont, Galthie, who expects to give further updates on his squad next week, said: “I have spoken to him: he is doing well. He resumed training two weeks ago. He wanted to play against Cardiff but the match did not go ahead. Then of course he tested positive for Covid. But he is fine and is still training.

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“He had a test at his club on Wednesday and depending on the results he will play or not for Toulouse this weekend. That is up to his head coach Ugo Mola and I have confidence in him he will take the right decision both for his team and for Antoine.”

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