Who is the best option to deputise at scrum-half?
On the night France recorded their biggest-ever victory, they may have lost the most crucial player to their bid to win a first Rugby World Cup crown. And now the question is: Can anyone replace Antoine Dupont?
The French captain left the field early in the second half following a head-on-head tackle from Namibia skipper Johan Deysel, who was sent off.
The early reports are that Dupont has suffered an orbital fracture that would potentially rule him out until the semi-finals at the earliest, should France get there.
But how do they go about reaching the last four without the man almost universally accepted as the world’s best player? Here are the main options to replace Antoine Dupont in the starting line-up…
Dupont’s back-up since November 2021 has been Maxime Lucu, who has the impressive record of having won every game he has ever played for France (he was injured for the Ireland game in the Six Nations).
While conventional wisdom is that your bench nine should be able to raise the tempo, Lucu is more of a game manager, both for Bordeaux and France.
He has excelled as a finisher for Galthié, but not always looked as good in a starting role. Even so, he would appear to be the favourite to step into the No.9 jersey. He also has the advantage of an established partnership with fly-half Matthieu Jalibert thanks to their club combination.
The man who replaced Dupont against Namibia is perhaps the closest comparison as a running option.
Lyon scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud has a phenomenal try-scoring record, with 51 tries in 96 starts at club level. He added another within minutes of coming on last night, and had another ruled out.
There is a case that Couilloud makes more sense as a starter to enable France to maintain the same style of play they employ with Dupont.
He does not have the same length of kicking game as Dupont – no one does – and defensively cannot compare with the France skipper.
But as a link man and support runner, he provides a similar threat. He also provides leadership as a club captain and has previously captained France, doing so in the Autumn Nations Cup final against England.
If there is one man who knows that it is possible to miss out on initial selection for a World Cup before forcing your way into a starter’s role, it is Fabien Galthié.
The France coach did so three times, from 1991 to 1999. Now Baptiste Serin will look to emulate him.
In a world without Dupont, Serin might be regarded as one of the world’s leading scrum-halves, and having fallen down the pecking order, his performances for Toulon last year earned him a recall for France’s World Cup preparations.
In the end, he narrowly missed out on selection for the final 33, but if France decide they cannot wait on Dupont, then Serin would be the obvious call-up.
A fantastically gifted all-round scrum-half, Serin provides kicking, leadership and a little bit of magic when required, even if he is not as physically imposing as Dupont.
Although he is now at Toulon, he has plenty of experience alongside Jalibert from his Bordeaux days. Given the opportunity, you would expect him to step up, it is just whether he gets that chance.
The wildcards to replace Antoine Dupont
Realistically, the three players mentioned above will be the prime candidates to replace Dupont. Racing 92’s young scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec would be next in line, and was arguably the form nine in the opening three weeks of the Top 14 season.
Baptiste Jauneau, Clermont’s World U20s-winning scrum-half, may well be in line for a senior debut in the Six Nations, but was injured for his club and is therefore not an option.
The only other decision will be on the captaincy. Charles Ollivon, who started this World Cup cycle in charge, finished yesterday’s game in the role and is the obvious candidate to continue as such. Grégory Alldritt, who will return against Italy, is the only alternative but it will almost certainly be ‘Le Grand Charles’.
Who would you like to see replace Antoine Dupont? Let us know on social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org