Ireland brace themselves for 'extraterrestrial' Dupont
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Mention the name Antoine Dupont and the response is the same from teammates and opponents alike – the jaws drop, the eyes light up and the plaudits flow.
“I call him the Martian, the extraterrestrial,” said his Toulouse and France teammate Cyril Baille.
“I don’t think he’s from the same planet as us. He’s our X-factor.
“Antoine impresses with every outing. It is a pleasure to play with him, we are lucky to have him in the France team.”
Veteran Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton, who has played against Dupont at international and club level and will meet him again in Dublin on Sunday, admits to being “incredibly impressed” by the 24-year-old.
“He is obviously the main man,” said Sexton on Wednesday.
“There has been a lot of attention on him this week in camp and it’s imperative we don’t give him time and space.”
The stocky Toulouse scrumhalf is a player who catches the eye and makes things happen, he is the catalyst for a France team that heads to Dublin hoping to take a second giant step towards securing their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2010.
Last year they came close, beating England and Ireland but stumbling in Edinburgh against the resurgent Scots.
Although disappointing to be pipped for the title by the English on points difference, it was a personal triumph for Dupont who was officially named as Player of the Tournament.
And he has carried that form into this year’s championship. On the opening weekend he was everywhere in Rome, scoring one try and having a direct hand in three of the other six as France overwhelmed Italy 50-10.
Dupont began his professional career at Castres, turning heads with the French Under-20 side and making his senior international debut in the 2017 Six Nations, a late replacement for Baptiste Serin in the wins over Italy and Wales.
A move to Toulouse followed and his international stock began to rise.
Since Fabien Galthie, himself a former France scrumhalf, took over as coach after the 2019 World Cup, Dupont has emerged as one of the finest players in the world, the first name on the France teamsheet.
“He manages to remain so consistent in his performances,” says an admiring Brice Dulin.
“He creates actions in every match where he very often disrupts opposing defences on his own.”
In a short space of time, Dupont has become the heartbeat of the French team. Dulin admits that Les Bleus have “adapted to his game”, highlighting the scrumhalf’s vision and anticipation.
“He’s got a head start,” he says.
The Irish have seen plenty of him so they know what they are in for.
Scrumhalf Connor Murray, who will be directly opposite Dupont at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, is well aware of the dangers but is relishing the chance to face Dupont once more.
“He’s flying it, he had a massive game last week against Italy,” said Murray.
“I know how good he is, he’s really at the top of the game at the moment and he deserves the plaudits.”
“He’s a massive threat, a fantastic player and I’ve a lot of respect for him. But it’s exciting to come up against a player in that form and try to prove yourself against that.”
France have never won a Grand Slam in years they travel to Dublin and Twickenham. With Dupont at the helm, they may be about to change that.