International scrum-halves past and present pay tribute to the France No 9

What they say about Antoine Dupont

Antoine Dupont has been collecting numerous gongs over the past few years, including being named the world’s best player by Rugby World at the end of 2021.

On top of the individual honours, he has won French and European titles with Toulouse and led France to a Grand Slam – a first Six Nations title in 12 years and a feat that brought him to tears.

But what is it that makes the France scrum-half so good? We asked a number of international nines past and present to explain what makes Dupont such a phenomenal player.

Here is what they say about Antoine Dupont…

Rory Lawson, 31 caps for Scotland

He just doesn’t have any weaknesses. There’s no flaw in any part of his game.

If you consider the best scrum-halves in the world in the past decade or two, you typically have your George Gregans, Aaron Smiths, Will Genias; those types of guys who manage a game well and have a really good skill-set.

And then you have your other type of scrum-half, your Joost van der Westhuizens, your Mike Phillipses, the bigger scrum-halves, more physical, built like back-rows.

Dupont is 5ft 8in, give or take, but he has a physical presence, he has proper man-strength whereby he can swat away weak defenders around the fringes of a ruck. So he can do that part of it, the confrontation, and he can also do the other part, the creative.

He’s absolutely electric off the mark and his basic skills are world class. His pass is zippy, he’s quick in and out of the ruck, he has the ability to threaten the fringes himself but understands how to put others into space and, like every great scrum-half, his pace post-pass to either get to the next ruck or run that support line is fantastic.

Defensively he’s very good. As a kicker, he not only has a really accurate kick but he has a really long kick when he needs it. And we’re starting to see his leadership come through now as well.

So, no weaknesses and his strengths are so incredibly strong that you can’t pick any holes in what he does. An incredible rugby player.

Will Genia, 110 caps for Australia

The thing that stands out most for me is his athleticism. He’s got an electric turn of pace and is very strong in the carry with a great sense of anticipation. You couple that with how ultra-competitive he is and it’s a scary prospect for opposition teams.

Greig Laidlaw, 76 caps for Scotland

Antoine obviously has top-end speed, which makes him dangerous to forwards in and around the breakdown, but I think one of the things that sets him apart is his low centre of gravity. That makes him really strong so therefore tough to tackle.

When you see him break tackles, it’s normally on the bigger men. Couple that with a strong fend – that’s why he breaks a lot of tackles, and once he is into space that’s where his speed and his rugby abilities clearly take over.

Natasha Hunt, 55 caps for England

The biggest thing that stands out for me is his hustle. He’s got relentless energy around the park and galvanises any team he’s in; he does it for club and for country. He never seems to dwindle, never seems to drop.

His skill-set is one of the best out there. He’s so confident with his pass, which every good nine is, he brings flair, he has a kicking game, he is on top of where the space is.

What they say about Antoine Dupont

Antoine Dupont tackles All Blacks No 8 Ardie Savea (AFP/Getty Images)

Then there’s what he gives you in defence; he’s so powerful he’s like an extra back-row. At nine, it’s about getting on top of people and that’s the way he thinks as well. He’s so powerful and he rarely gets it wrong; if he goes to make a shot and flies out of the line, he always gets man and ball. So effective.

There’s his game awareness as well, his decision-making. He looks for those opportunities to run a line and then goes; he always makes good decisions. Also, because he’s so consistent there, people look for him in support. Other nines might go every now and then, but he is always on that line, so people look as they know he’s going to be there.

Any nine is naturally a leader because of the role they play in the team and, for me, his energy and the way he goes about his business, he really drags people up to that level. He’s definitely a lead-by-example kind of guy.

Aaron Smith, 102 caps for New Zealand

It’s no secret that I really rate Dupont. I watch his play closely and he has a real impact. Everything good that happens around that French team seems to be around what he is doing. His ability to really pounce on an opportunity is impressive.

He gets an offload off a line break and he just finishes. It’s crazy. His kicking game has real nous and, with his man-to-man ability, he is a freak. He can run down the blind and step or fend defenders. I call him a sniper, he sees an opportunity and just doesn’t miss.

You don’t play international rugby at nine if you don’t have a good pass. Both Faf de Klerk and Dupont have that and are dynamic, passionate players. They punch above their weight as they are very physical in contact, certainly more than me! They can bust a tackle and put a hit on. They pick and choose when to run, it’s not just all-out speed.

I first faced Antoine in a 2017 Test in France. He played very well, nipped and zipped around the ruck. We won that day but I remember thinking, ‘He has some juice and a bit of go about him’.

Michael Bradley, 40 caps for Ireland

He has all the physical attributes needed to be world class – strength, speed, stamina and technical skill level – but, for me, his ability to remain ‘cool’ and to ‘read/feel’ the key moments in a game and to then make the right decision make him stand out as the world-class operator that he is today.

The style that Toulouse and France play allows Antoine to express his natural talent week in, week out. Maintaining your composure at the highest level in the key moments of a game is rare. He chooses from a large menu of options; most other nines are following team instructions.

This article originally appeared in the January 2022 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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