France look to 'extraterrestrial' Dupont for inspiration in Dublin

·3-min read

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 praise flows.

"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 fly-half Johnny Sexton, whose hopes of meeting his old foe again were dashed after he was omitted from the lineup for Sunday's match following a blow to the head against Wales last weekend, 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 scrum-half 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 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 disappointed 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.

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, or foot, in three of the other six as France overwhelmed Italy 50-10.

- 'Consistent' -

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 continued to rise.

Since Fabien Galthie, himself a former France scrum-half, took over as coach after the 2019 World Cup, Dupont has emerged as one of the finest players in the world.

"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 defenses on his own."

In a short time, Dupont has become the heartbeat of the French team. Dulin admits that Les Bleus have "adapted to his game", highlighting the scrum-half's vision and anticipation.

"He's got a head start," Dulin says.

The Irish know what they are in for.

"He's flying it, he had a massive game last week against Italy," said scrum-half Connor Murray, who would have been directly opposite Dupont at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday but for a hamstring injury.

"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."

France have never won a Grand Slam in years when they travel to Dublin and Twickenham. With Dupont at the helm, and Ireland weakened by the absences of Sexton and Murray, they may be about to change that.