Les Bleus have been tinkering with their half-back combination for years but in Antoine Dupont they have unearthed a gifted player capable of leading France for the next decade.
The Toulouse scrum-half, who only turned 23 in November, was instrumental in the 24-17 victory over England on Sunday, his game-breaking abilities, accurate kicking and self-confidence boosting others around him.
Every time he touches the ball, something happens.
His overall contribution against the World Cup finalists was immense – 10 carries for 50 metres gained, with one try assist, three offloads, seven defenders beaten and two clean breaks. He also made nine tackles and missed just one.
Forget that bizarre celebratory kick into row Z one minute before full-time. It doesn’t matter if he can’t tell the time properly.
It was his electric breaks that caused problems all evening, and the fact that Fabien Galthie kept him on for the full 80 minutes shows how highly he rates his petite general.
With just 11 starts to his name, Dupont has quickly transformed into a leader, with his unselfish decision-making and ability to act as a ninth forward with his tackling, voracious work-rate, ensuring team-mates follow his lead.
From his razor-like pass out to Vincent Rattez which paved the way for Charles Ollivon’s try to his cleverly weighed kick to pin England back towards their own line, he was a key cog in everything France offered going forward.
In the second half, the Pyrenees man directed play with the touch of a veteran, putting in some steady box kicks and producing one beautiful break to send Ollivon in for his second try on 55 minutes.
One risky play, which underlines his composure, came on 76 minutes after Willi Heinz kicked the ball in behind. Dupont collected on his own line and, instead of booting the ball away himself, passed latterly to Rattez, just as an England player closed in.
Then, two minutes later, he showed his battering defensive qualities, putting in a crunching hit on Heinz to dislodge the ball, just as the visitors went in search of a third try.
Overall, Dupont’s ability to produce magic from any attack was a constant source of inspiration. He was the perfect link between forwards and backs and exactly what Galthie needs when they take on powerhouses Wales and Ireland later in the tournament.
The victory in Paris has certainly bolstered confidence and morale, but the focus immediately shifts to Sunday’s round two match against Italy.
Whatever happens, one thing’s for sure: Dupont will be at the centre of everything for Les Bleus.
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