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Antoine Dupont is not rugby’s GOAT, it's Portia Woodman-Wickliffe

By Finn Morton
Antoine Dupont of France and Portia Woodman-Wickliffe of New Zealand. (Photos by Denis Doyle/Getty Images and Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images)

It was both naïve and ignorant to doubt Antoine Dupont on Saturday evening.

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While Spanish football giants Real Madrid battled with German juggernauts Borussia Dortmund for UEFA Champions League glory at Wembley, Dupont delivered an all-time special SVNS Series moment at the home of Real’s cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid.

If only for a moment, it seemed Dupont had made an uncharacteristically poor decision against Great Britain. The Frenchman got the ball on his own 22-metre line and decided to go down the short side where rugby sevens veteran Robbie Fergusson met him.

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France needed to win that match to keep their hopes of taking out the SVNS Series overall title alive, and with the team down by seven points at that stage, this seemed like the wrong call.

Fergusson jockeyed the former World Rugby 15s Player of the Year towards the sideline and appeared to have him cornered. Still, Dupont backed himself by viciously bumping off the defender and then running away for the decisive score.

Fans at Madrid’s Civitas Metropolitano sat in awe, bemusement and almost a sense of disbelief. Dupont had helped Toulouse win the Champions Cup Final against Irish heavyweights Leinster less than seven days before and was now doing that on the SVNS Series.

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France went on to win the overall Series title for the first time in their history. Dupont was named in the official Dream Team for the third time in as many events this season and was also awarded the SVNS men’s Rookie of the Year honour.

It’s something others couldn’t dream of doing.

Fans have spent the last week or so debating whether Dupont is the greatest of all time (GOAT) in rugby union. It’s a massive claim to make considering the other legends who have graced the sport, but it’s by no means outlandish.

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Dupont, 27, was named the Player of the Final at leading Toulouse to glory, the European Player of the Year, the SVNS Series’ Rookie of the Year and is now a rugby sevens world champion.

Even when you consider the likes of Dan Carter, Brain O’Driscoll, Richie McCaw, Jonny Wilkinson and the late great Jonah Lomu, Dupont is different gravy.

But there’s one player who is barely even mentioned in this discussion.

It’s almost criminal that New Zealand’s dual-code rugby sevens and 15s sensation Portia Woodman-Wickliffe seems to either be constantly forgotten or overlooked.

Yes, Woodman-Wickliffe is almost unanimously considered the greatest in the history of women’s rugby, but her legend goes well beyond gender and almost the societal restrictions that some continue to place on the women’s game.

On Saturday – yes,  on the same day as Dupont’s masterclass against GB – Woodman-Wickliffe was seen signing autographs and taking selfies for about 15 minutes. There was literally a line of Spanish fans who waited patiently to meet their rugby hero.

That’s a global superstar right there.

Later in the tournament, the Black Ferns Sevens veteran powered through multiple Australian defenders to score a try which had the vocal Spanish crowd cheering. It was one moment of physicality, skill and determination that almost sums up her career.

Woodman-Wickliffe is a trailblazer in the women’s game. With a stone-cold demeanour on the field, but an endless amount of time for both supporters and media once the full-time whistle has sounded, it’s not hard to see why the No. 11 is admired so much.

Earlier this year, the try-scoring phenomenon played her 50th international sevens tournament in Los Angeles. It’s an exclusive club that also includes Australia’s duo of Charlotte Caslick and Sharni Smale, who also reached the milestone this season.

The 32-year-old has broken records for fun during her distinguished career yet remains humble. While wearing the black jersey with pride, the New Zealander recently became the first women’s player to score 250 tries in rugby sevens.

Since debuting for the Black Ferns Sevens in 2012, Woodman-Wickliffe has helped New Zealand win multiple world titles on the SVNS Series, as well as Commonwealth, Olympic and Rugby Sevens World Cup gold medals.

The legendary winger was also recognised as the Sevens Player of the Year in 2015 and later the Player of the Decade. Read that again.

But that’s not all.

In 15s, she played a role in New Zealand winning back-to-back Rugby World Cup crowns in 2017 and 2021 on home soil. World Rugby also awarded the game-changing talent with the esteemed honour of being named the world’s best player in 2017.

Woodman-Wickliffe holds the record for the most tries scored by either a woman or man at Rugby World Cups. Bryan Habana, who is the co-leader for men’s players with 15 tries, rightfully pointed that out before the sport’s showpiece event in France last year.

The Kiwi’s ability to succeed at both 15s and sevens is shockingly underrated.

Throw in what Woodman-Wickliffe has done to grow the women’s game and this race to be the best appears won.

Impact, profile and ability all have to come into this discussion.

That’s greatness. That’s what it means to be the GOAT.

It’s time that Portia Woodman-Wickliffe gets the respect that her distinguished career deserves.

But there is something special about Antoine Dupont, and that has to be said as well.

There is potential for Dupont to join Woodman-Wickliffe at the top end of the GOAT debate but some trophies still need to be won. Dupont needs to lead France to back-to-back World Cup triumphs and Olympic gold in Paris next month.

Only then will Dupont equal some of Woodman-Wickliffe’s accomplishments.

“I was honestly a bit worried before my first tournament, so I tried to work very hard to be ready… but there was a very good team spirit in the team so it was easy to join them,” Dupont said on Sunday when asked about switching to sevens.

“I hope it will be a huge tournament for us,” he added. “Obviously, we want to win, but we’re not the only team, so we have two months to work as hard as we can to be ready and to try and lift the trophy in July.”

As for now, the French rugby icon is one of the greats, but not quite the best of the lot yet.

Antoine Dupont may be a supremely talented player, but at this stage, the Frenchman is still chasing the greatness that Portia Woodman-Wickliffe holds and it’s about time rugby fans recognise that.

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Comments

44 Comments
B
Brian 16 days ago

I think the bottom line here is that the men and the women’s game is very different because of the physiological differences between the two and there is little point and it is unhelpful to compare the two.

Then no-one agrees on who is the GOAT of either of them because it is impossible to compare different positions and eras and personal perceptions differ greatly.

T
Tinus 16 days ago

Dan Carter is the GOAT. Can't argue with stats, as simple as that. I am a South African and we have the world of respect for his world class winning ability.

a
adamdeswardt 16 days ago

The best women’s player will never compare to the best men’s player. The whole reason there is women’s rugby is because they are not good enough to play against the best rugby players, so they started a women’s rugby category to give women a chance to play this game, we all love. Any women would be welcome to play against men if they want, there is no limit, but men can’t join the women’s game, for obvious reasons. The fact that the Women’s World cup winners USA football team lost to an u15 boys CLUB team (not even best u15 boys of USA) 5-2. So just imagine in rugby where strength and size are of more importance than football. What would happen to Woodman-Wickliffe just trying to tackle a 2m man that weights 120kg running at full pace - like Eben Etzebeth? Men’s rugby is the ultimate and if you must add a caveat like women’s rugby or blind rugby or deaf rugby behind it, by definition it will be at a lower level, thus you can’t even to start comparing them to the open division (men). People these days are so scared to just say to obvious.

J
Johann 16 days ago

She may be the greatest female to play to date. In the same manner as the Serena Williams vs. Margaret Court debate is entertained, despite their stats refuting the need for debate. But like Mac said, and Serena herself affirmed, she would get blown off the court by Andy Murray in 15 minutes. Actually Johnny Mac said the world’s 300th male would beat Serena…

So no, Portia is not the GOAT because Bryan Habbana, BG Williams, and J Kirwan are all better wingers let alone all round players. Zinzan was a more complete footballer as was the Iceman. These are just Kiwis and if we were to cast the net wider we would complicate the matter more.

The best way to settle it is to play against each other. I guess that would offend some people but hey, then you can call yourself the best and mean it without race, sex, religion and politics as suedo arguments.

S
Shelley 17 days ago

Thanks for this article Finn. I'm not surprised by the other comments that have been made about Woodman-Wickliffe. There will always be people who say you’re not comparing apples with apples, you can’t compare the men’s game to the women’s game etc. You wrote about Portia's impact, profile, and ability - that those are things people should be recognising but unfortunately, there will always be those who will never be able to recognise, or appreciate her greatness, because she is a female rugby player and, in their mind, her achievements will never matter as much as a man’s. I wish that people could see Portia for the outstanding athlete that she is vs downplaying everything that she has achieved, and continues to achieve, because she plays women's rugby. Just my take on it.

J
Jon 17 days ago

The real GOAT is Michael Jordan…The rugby GOAT has to be Dan Carter

S
SadersMan 17 days ago

GOAT is an unquantifiable nonsense term. Aaron Smith over Dupont all day err’ day.

l
leon 17 days ago

The fun thing is the GOAT debate doesn’t have a correct answer because as many have pointed out unless 2 players play the same position in the same format against the same gender in the same era you aren’t comparing apples with apples.

I think what we can all agree on is that Dupont is a fantastic player and forms part of the conversation, not many have Portia down in the conversation because of the differences between the womens and mens games, but she is also a fantastic player and certainly part of the womens rugby GOAT debate

B
Brian 17 days ago

It is impossible to compare players from different eras. DuPont is too new on the block to be judged and Woodman is largely a Micky Mouse 7s player and overrated at proper rugby. In any case I don’t think you should match men against women, it is a totally different game. If you really must think in terms of GOATs the names of Willie John McBride and Gareth Edwards spring to mind from the NH and there will be several others from SH.

f
finn 17 days ago

the great thing about rugby is you can find out who is better by watching them play against each other. That doesn’t always work when comparing individual players who play different positions, but roles are probably flexible enough in sevens that Dupont and Woodman could be reasonably well judged against one another in a head to head between their teams.

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