Sam Larner looks at how the France scrum-half is able to predict play and put himself in the best positions
Six Nations Analysis: Antoine Dupont’s support lines
The supporters may have been lacking on Super Saturday but the support lines certainly weren’t.
Support lines refer to the runs made by other members of the team after a clean break has been made. Scrum-halves are usually associated with this action; the way they track play means that they are often on hand to receive a try-scoring pass once a break has been made.
This is a relatively new phenomenon, however. At the 2019 World Cup Simon Gleave, head of sports analysis at Gracenote, showed that an overwhelming majority of scum-half tries came from support play. By the knockout stages, scum-halves had scored 26 tries, behind only wingers as the most productive try-scorers.
In 2015, nines scored just 14 tries and only two of those came from something other than sniping around the fringes. The game is changing and that change has brought scrum-halves many more tries.
Having said all that, let’s start off with a try scored where the nine played only a supporting role.
France’s bonus-point try against Ireland was the final nail in the coffin of Ireland’s title hopes. You can see how Antoine Dupont follows his pass from the ruck, which brings him into play as an inside option after Romain Ntamack has regathered his own kick.
The kick and regather of Ntamack presents immediate problems for Ireland because the defensive line has been bypassed and the remaining defenders need to charge towards Ntamack – if they don’t stop him then he will just score a try. This is where the support is so vital. Virimi Vakatawa holds his width and Ntamack calmly puts him away in the two-on-one.
For the opening try against Ireland you can see why the scrum-half would have so many opportunities to finish tries off.
When Gael Fickou makes his break around Andrew Porter Dupont is level with him. This is because when a scrum-half passes from a ruck they obviously pass backwards but they don’t then run backwards and follow play. Instead, they run forwards and pre-empt where the next ruck will be. This is key for young scrum-halves: don’t run to where the ball is, run to where you think it will end up.
When Fickou gets into open space Dupont simply accelerates and is there to finish off the two-on-one again. It might seem simple but it is Dupont’s speed and awareness that allows him to get into these positions so consistently.
That same principle is evident here from England‘s Ben Youngs. He makes the pass to Mako Vunipola but then runs across the pitch rather than backwards. When Vunipola passes to Owen Farrell for the break, Youngs is already up with the play. He just accelerates ahead of the chasing Italian defenders and is on hand to run in the first of two tries.
You can also see how Tom Curry has made the effort to get into a second support position. He doesn’t receive the ball and so by the stats this wouldn’t have counted for anything, but he has impacted the defence by forcing them to account for a second attacker.
Most of the time tries scored from a clean break with a support runner look deceptively simple. In actual fact, your local club would struggle to convert these at much higher than 60% success rate. Sometimes, though, a try looks as hard as it is, even with excellent support.
Watch how Ntamack gives the pass and then continues his run. He knows that Fickou will accelerate on the outside, which will put him onside. He doesn’t want to stop then not be quick enough to catch back up with play.
Dupont is doing something similar to what we saw before. This try came from a counter-attack so he is catching up rather than pre-empting where the ball will be. When the kick goes through it becomes a race between Ntamack and Dupont to see who will be the try ‘assister’ and who the scorer.
As we have discussed, the immediate threat is the ball. It is for that reason that both Irish players gravitate to where the ball bounces. Dupont wins the race and draws both defenders. There is no space for a traditional pass, so Dupont just hurls it up knowing that Ntamack is trailing him and the fly-half scores.
If you play yourself, try to imagine where the ball will be, not where it is. You will sometimes make mistakes and be out of position but most of the time you will arrive at the ball before anyone else. It is this skill that leads to bags of tries.
Hopefully soon we will be able to see supporters and support lines together in the same place.
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