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Gatland feels absence of Dupont is huge loss for France

NEWS: Wales coach Warren Gatland said Friday that the absence of Antoine Dupont was a “massive loss” for a France team that has struggled this Six Nations.

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After the disappointment of a World Cup quarterfinal exit on home soil at the hands of eventual winners South Africa, Dupont stepped away from skippering France to join up with the French sevens squad with the aim of playing in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

The combative scrumhalf is perhaps the best reader of a game in modern rugby, blessed with a fine passing and kicking game, but also electric around the fringes and a brilliant defender.

Faltering Maxime Lucu has largely deputised for Dupont, although Nolann Le Garrec has been given the nod to start against Wales in Cardiff on Sunday in the final match of the fourth round of the Six Nations.

France suffered a 17-38 defeat by Ireland in their opening fixture before edging Scotland 20-16 and then drawing 13-all with Italy, three results that have not sat pretty with a nation that had been tipped for World Cup glory before that 28-29 capitulation to the Springboks back in October.

In that time, Dupont debuted when France finished third in the Vancouver leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series before helping deliver the squad’s first tournament victory in 19 years in Los Angeles last weekend.

“It just shows when you’re with a team, and we’ve been lucky enough with this in the past and it’s the challenge going forward, that having two or three X-factor players in your team can make a massive difference,” Gatland said of Dupont.

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“Sometimes you get two relatively even teams but it’s the individual brilliance of someone who can change a game.

“There’s no doubt for me that Dupont is a massive loss for them. He’s probably the best player in the world.”

Gatland, in his second stint as Wales coach, added: “We’ve already seen what he’s done with the French Sevens team.”

There were no sour grapes from Gatland’s counterpart Fabien Galthie, speaking at his team unveiling in France.

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“I’m the leading supporter of the France sevens, I’m so proud they won their first trophy since 2005,” he said.

“I’m very happy for France 7s, Antoine. He’s played up to the challenge. He’s been playing sevens for a month, a bronze medal, a gold medal, I think he has talent, has something special.

“It’s an investment that will bear fruit in the years to come, and even during the 2027 World Cup. It’s an inspiring choice.”

No lack of motivation

Turning to the eight changes Galthie made to the France team for the showdown at the Principality Stadium, Gatland said: “They’ve probably thought they don’t feel like they can win the Six Nations.

“So there’s a chance to give players in their squad an opportunity.

“We didn’t expect so many changes from them. Whether they come here to throw the ball around or play an offloading game, we’ve got to be prepared for that.

“Or whether they go for being a bit more brutal up front and play for territory. We’ve just got to make sure we’re prepared for anything.”

Wales are still seeking a first win in this year’s championship, having gone down 26-27 to Scotland, 14-16 to England and 7-31 to Ireland.

Italy welcome Scotland on Saturday and a loss for the hosts would pile the pressure on Wales, with a defeat in Cardiff setting up a potential wooden spoon game on March 16.

But Gatland insisted geeing up the squad was not tough.

“There’s been no lack of motivation,” said Gatland, who led Wales to four Six Nations titles (including three Grand Slams) in his first tenure as head coach between 2008-19.

“I can’t question the effort of these players. People are saying if it’s a challenge to get them up for the next game, but it’s not a challenge at all.

“They understand the responsibility of putting on that jersey and going out. We’re desperate to get that win. We know we’re not quite there and there’s a lot of work to do.

“But we’ve put ourselves in games and put teams under pressure. Even that scoreline against Ireland blew out a little bit.”

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