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FEATURE After the Dupont calamity, what happens next?

After the Dupont calamity, what happens next?
8 months ago

Speaking before Thursday night’s pool A match against Namibia, France coach Fabien Galthie had stressed the importance of flexibility in a World Cup campaign. “Our method is based on adaptability,” he said. “We adapt according to deadlines. It’s Darwin’s theory – the most intelligent species adapts.”

Galthie is going to have to adapt more than ever in the weeks ahead after it was confirmed on Friday morning that Antoine Dupont has sustained a fractured cheekbone. France’s captain and scrum-half was hit high by Namibia’s Johan Deysel six minutes into the second-half, for which he was shown a red card. He spent the night in a local hospital and was transferred to Toulouse on Friday where he will be operated on by one of France’s leading facial surgeons.

He’s in the best possible hands but, according to Midi Olympique, the most optimistic prognosis is that Dupont will be sidelined for ‘several weeks’.

How long is ‘several’? He certainly won’t be fit for France’s last pool game against Italy on October 6, and it would be a surprise if he is able to play in the quarter-final a week later, which will probably pair France against the loser of tomorrow night’s Pool B clash between Ireland and South Africa.

Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont was in sparkling form against Namibia before his injury and players like Damien Penaud must now step up (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

France is devastated. Dupont is a household name, known to men and women who might not be au fait with the difference between a tighthead and a loosehead but recognize the smiling, lantern-jawed face of Dupont that has adorned billboards and magazines for months. Rugby fans, of course, worship the ground on which he walks. Over the summer, Midi Olympique published a biography of the 26-year-old over nine issues in which it lauded his physical, temperamental and moral qualities; it was the sort of adulation one wouldn’t find in the Anglophone rugby world, the elevation of one player above his teammates. France did it with Frederic Michalak in the 2003 World Cup and Sebastien Chabal in 2007; neither of these players came close to fulfilling the hype, but Dupont is a genuine superstar.

His absence is a tragedy not just for France, but for the tournament and for everyone who loves the game. Imagine the 2022 football world cup without Lionel Messi, or next month’s cricket world cup without Ben Stokes.

He was sensational in the first half against Namibia, reminding us why he is rated the most talented player in the game. His two nonchalant cross-field kicks – one with his left foot and the other with his right – that led to tries in the corner for wingers Louis Bielle-Biarry and Damian Penaud were the stuff of genius. He just makes the game look so easy.

His absence is a tragedy not just for France, but for the tournament and for everyone who loves the game. Imagine the 2022 football world cup without Lionel Messi, or next month’s cricket world cup without Ben Stokes.

Baptiste Couilloud
Baptiste Couilloud will battle it out with Maxime Lucu for the No 9 berth, with the former, a more dynamic, Dupont-type player (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

How will Galthie adapt to the loss of his leader and his scrum-half? The contenders for the No 9 shirt would seem to be Baptiste Couilloud and Maxime Lucu, Dupont’s understudies in the France RWC squad. Lucu plays for Bordeaux, the same club as France’s fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, which is obviously an advantage. But Couilloud is more dynamic, with an offensive style closer to Dupont’s than Lucu.

The other possibility is Baptiste Serin, who was in Galthie’s preliminary 42-man RWC squad but missed the final cut, to the surprise of many. Seven years ago, Serin was hailed as the most exciting young talent in France: and then Dupont emerged. But the 29-year-old Serin is still a very talented scrum-half, who is quick, aggressive, intelligent and has a strong kicking game. He also knows Jalibert well, having risen to fame with Bordeaux before moving to Toulon in 2019.

There was some speculation at the start of last season that Galthie might keep Ollivon in the role, to ease some of the pressure on Dupont, but he nominated the scrum-half as captain.

As for the man who takes over the leadership of the group, that will be more straightforward. Charles Ollivon had the role before Dupont, but a knee injury playing for Toulon on the last day of the regular Top 14 season in June 2021 sidelined him for more than a year. In his absence, Dupont guided France to the 2022 Grand Slam, their first title for 12 years.

Ollivon led the Bleus to Japan in the summer of 2022 (Dupont was rested by Galthie) and he displayed his natural authority in the series victory. There was some speculation at the start of last season that Galthie might keep Ollivon in the role, to ease some of the pressure on Dupont, but he nominated the scrum-half as captain.

Charles Ollivon
In Dupont’s absence, former captain Charles Ollivon is expected to step up his leadership duties (Photo Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)

Ironically, a factor that may have influenced Galthie’s decision was Ollivon’s length injury record over the years compared to the durability of Dupont. Since making his Test debut in 2017, Dupont’s only major injury was knee ligament damage against Ireland in the 2018 Six Nations, which kept him out for six months.

Ollivon is one of the great loose forwards in international rugby. Fast, powerful, athletic, he is also a superb reader of the game in offence and defence. Ollivon scored twice  in the 96-0 thrashing of Namibia and in doing so he surpassed Olivier Magne’s haul of 14 Test tries to become the leading try-scorer for a French forward.

That will be the last thing on Ollivon’s mind today. He’ll be thinking about his mate Dupont, as well as what his absence means for France. “Our method is based on adaptability,” said Galthie earlier in the week

Darwin called it the Survival of the Fittest, but how will France evolve without their little genius?

Comments

2 Comments
B
Bob Marler 266 days ago

France picks another scrum half and march on…?

G
GrandDisse 266 days ago

Ollivon as captain is a no brainer. Regarding scrum-half, hard to pick between Couilloud and Lucu. Serin is a good player and may have been France first choice if Dupont didn't exist, but he has not been selected in the 33 for a reason.

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