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How the Springboks blueprint can help France and the Antoine Dupont situation

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 15: Faf De Klerk of Team South Africa in action with Antoine Dupont of Team France during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Quarter Final match between France and South Africa at Stade de France on October 15, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)

It’s hard to imagine him like that behind his silhouette, his bonhomie and his melodious voice, enough to give hope to even the worst of teams. But Pierre Dantin, before being an eminent professor specialising in high performance, was a bad boy. A real one.

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“I was ultra-violent,” he tells Mathieu Bastareaud in the third episode of BastaShow, available exclusively on the RugbyPass France YouTube channel.

“I wasn’t going to be a professor one day, that wasn’t my destiny. I was borderline when I was a kid, until people saw that I was different from the others, that I had other skills or other ways of being me. Rugby was a catharsis for my violence.”

From his personal experience, he has conceived analytical tools for the greatest players and the greatest teams. Because, as he likes to point out, if high level is the way to the top, high performance is the way to win it.

And to achieve this, the keys to success are to be found deep within the players themselves. This is what makes the Springboks, for example, world champions for the fourth time in their history, in France in October 2023.

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The lesson of the Springboks

“They weren’t the favourites,” recalls Professor Pierre Dantin. “But you can feel that this team has an inner drive. Whatever the films of their personal lives, it is first and foremost built on history, their origins, the pride of allegiance, the strong feeling of being on a mission for a country.

“Listen to [Siya] Kolisi”, he recommends to Bastareaud. “You get the impression you’re listening to one of Mandela’s grandchildren in his approach. He is what he is. Cheslin Kolbe is like that too. That’s the Springbok spirit.”

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It’s a team’s culture on the one hand, its strategy on the other.

“What made them win was also the strength of what they are and what they are not, and how they have to adapt to others,” says the professor.

“Tactical battle, the art of trickery, means understanding what the other is going to do when he tries to adapt to you. It’s about timing ahead, not timing behind. The fact that you have a 7-1 bench already creates doubt in minds,” he says, referring to the tactics adopted by the Nienaber-Erasmus duo to beat France in the quarter-finals.

“But above all, it’s about absolute loyalty. If Kolisi hasn’t been good enough in a match, he’ll sit out. All of them, whatever their reputation, whatever social representation we have of them, they are all first and foremost Springboks and players. That’s something to think about. It avoids putting crazy pressure on each other and having a smarter saver. What saves you in rugby is the team.”

The Dupont Situation

And it is at this precise moment that our thoughts turn to the French team, knocked out by the future world champions, and who, let’s admit it, do not pull the same strings as the South Africans to reach the summit.

The most obvious evidence of this is the ultra-use of their playmaker, the best player in the world in many respects, Antoine Dupont.

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“Everything that has happened around Antoine Dupont has created the conditions for a form of intrinsic doubt,” comments Professor Dantin.

“Rugby has become a bit footballised, as if everything revolved around a single symbol (Dupont). He’s a genius, he’s a great guy, he’s extraordinary, but you can’t ask him, three weeks after an anaesthetic, to play for 80 minutes and be harassed by the scrum-halves. It’s very easy to say that after the game. And everything I say is not a judgement”, he warns.

Away from the XV de France, Les Bleus have lost their markers, and even their match, as they did against Ireland in the Six Nations opener in Marseille on 2 February.

“What happened was a bit too big to be true. We’ll have to wait for the rest of the tournament to confirm or deny,” says the Professor.

“Does Antoine’s presence or absence mean that French rugby is dependent on a single player? That’s very sad for rugby. It would be an insult to all the other players, regardless of Antoine Dupont’s genius. He’s outstanding. But the South Africans have also shown how to play…”.

He repeats: “We need to capitalise on everything we’ve learnt and let it serve as a lesson. Let’s transform it quickly and ensure that this start of the Tournament is nothing more than a counter-event.”

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