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‘Set the standard’: Hugo Keenan’s praise for ‘phenomenal’ Antoine Dupont

By Finn Morton
Antoine Dupont of France looks on during the HSBC Madrid Rugby Sevens match between France andGreat Britain at Civitas Metropolitano Stadium on June 01, 2024 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Ireland’s 2023 Grand Slam-winning fullback Hugo Keenan has praised fellow SVNS Series convert Antoine Dupont for setting a “very, very high standard” for other players looking to switch to rugby union’s shorter format.

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Just last week, Keenan started at fullback for Leinster in their Champions Cup Final against Toulouse at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Irish heavyweights fell short 33-21 in an extra-time classic with French halfback Antoine Dupont standing out.

Dupont, who captained France at last year’s Rugby World Cup on home soil, was recognised as the Investec Player of the Year after the hard-fought European final triumph. That performance has led some fans to call Dupont the ‘greatest of all time.’

But it’s not just fans singing Dupont’s praises.

Keenan and Dupont were included in their respective national squads for the SVNS Series Grand Final at Madrid’s Civitas Metropolitano from May 31 to June 2. Both men were impressive over the three days.

Once Ireland had played their final match in the Spanish capital, Keenan stopped to reflect on his return to rugby sevens. Keenan joked about needing “an extra pair of lungs” but was positive about the experience.

Then, a reporter asked him about Dupont’s form.

With Dupont making a remarkable return himself, which included a must-see try against Great Britain on Saturday, the familiar rival described the Frenchman as a “phenomenal” rugby player.

“I’ve obviously been watching him a lot with Toulouse and with the sevens, he’s phenomenal isn’t he? You saw even his try last night and the difference he can make.,” Keenan told reporters, including RugbyPass.

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“He was obviously brilliant on the weekend for Toulouse against us and we had a quick word after the game, a quick word in the corridor during the week in the hotel, wishing each other well.

“He’s set the standard for players coming into sevens now, and that’s a very, very high standard.”

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For all the praise and attention Dupont received during the tournament, Keenan almost seemed to fly under the radar at times. The Irishman has played sevens before, and after returning to the sport for the first time in years, he slotted right back in.

Keenan was named in Ireland’s starting side more times than not. The two-time Six Nations champion’s moment of the tournament came in a decisive pool stage clash against New Zealand, with Keenan scoring a try in the final play to send the match to golden point.

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But generally, Keenan more than held his own during an impressive comeback. With Jordan Conroy and Terry Kennedy expected to don the green jersey at the Paris Olympics next month, there’s every chance that Ireland can challenge for a medal.

“It’s been a very busy year for me, that’s the exciting part. I suppose it was put on the table a while back but it was always going to be a bit of a last-minute decision,” Keenan explained.

“I’d been injured since the Six Nations and that threw a bit of a spanner in the works. Prior to that, I was trying to just focus on Leinster and the Champions Cup because that’s where my career is and where I had to fully focus and commit one hundred percent.

“The opportunity came about pretty late on and because the lads were doing so well this year, I had a few chats with a few coaches, a few of the actual playing squad and everybody seemed keen to get me on board.

“These opportunities don’t come around too often. I had to make a tough decision, but hopefully, it’s one that I won’t regret and I’ll fully commit to now over the next few weeks and see what happens.”

Catch all of the SVNS Madrid action for free on RugbyPass TV. To watch the Grand Final, register HERE.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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