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'That is a good observation backed up by measurement': Why England have Dupont in their sights

By Liam Heagney

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England defence coach John Mitchell has a simple instruction for his players this Saturday at Twickenham: Get Dupont. Unlike most other Test teams, France play mostly off their scrum-half and it has resulted in Antoine Dupont becoming one of the stars so far in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.

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Having overcome his recent positive test for Covid-19 after France had started the championship with away wins over Italy and Ireland, the 24-year-old is now coming to London looking to keep alive his country’s Grand Slam bid.

France had their round three home game against Scotland postponed due to the virus outbreak which affected a dozen players and four staff, meaning their 31-strong squad will have not played Test rugby in 27 days when they take the field next Saturday at Twickenham.

But England defence coach Mitchell saw enough in the French displays in Rome and Dublin to know they must shackle Dupont if they are to get their own campaign back on track following February defeats to Scotland and Wales.

“Yeah, that is a good observation backed up by measurement as well,” said Mitchell when asked if the French were unusual in playing so much off their No9. “They are putting close to 60 per cent off nine. It just goes to show you very simply run to the line and then make decisions off the speed of that ball.”

Asked what England will look to do to limit Dupont’s influence, Mitchell added: “Stop him from running, I reckon. He can run. A really good player, likes to influence the game, backs his strengths, is a huge influence on how the French team plays. Looking forward to taking away what he has.

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“He runs, he has good vision, he has got awareness I guess of defenders when he goes to the breakdown on either side of the ruck. He also tends not to be premeditated. I guess he makes a lot of decisions based on what is in front of him.

“He has a good skill set and he is physically put together really well. He is powerful, he has got a good fend as you have seen and some of the ways he goes around defenders rather than on their inside, and his support play is second to none in how he anticipates beyond the ball on situations to support.”

Rugby fans in general often talk about French flair in attack but Mitchell doesn’t view them in that way. “They are still heavily focused on a long kicking game and they are still heavily focused on trying to get attacking lineouts in the attacking half and that is really where their game has been built on.

“Some people have a perception of French players as being expressive, flamboyant, keeping the ball alive, they still have that ability and they are still very good in space but this very successful French team is somewhat conservative in the sense that it is trying to win the kicking game, trying to win the territory and then get its opportunities to pounce.

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“They are a far more patient side that waits for their opportunity, that is prepared to stay disciplined and tactically disciplined in the way that they play.”

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'That is a good observation backed up by measurement': Why England have Dupont in their sights

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