World Rugby

Where To Now For France As Talismanic Leader Dupont In Doubt For World Cup

Where To Now For France As Talismanic Leader Dupont In Doubt For World Cup

French Rugby captain Antoine Dupont suffered a broken cheekbone during his team's record 96-0 victory over Namibia at Rugby World Cup 2023.

Sep 23, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Where To Now For France As Talismanic Leader Dupont In Doubt For World Cup

In the cutthroat world of top-level professional sports, there are a handful of athletes who transcend their sport to reach the upper echelons of superstardom. 

On the basketball court, Michael Jordan cemented a legacy that went above and beyond that of an athlete, becoming a social icon. Whilst on the turf pitches around the NFL, Tom Brady’s rise from a late-round draft pick to the most successful quarterback of all time is one of the greatest underdog tales around. 

For Rugby, there has been a handful of stars in the game’s illustrious history, with the legendary All Black flyhalf Dan Carter considered by most to be the greatest player ever to grace the sport. 

Whilst Carter’s position atop the head of the table is secure, there is one player in the current era who is pushing for the top spot. 

At just twenty-six years old, French captain Antoine Dupont is the most influential player in the game today and is the poster boy for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. 

A supremely gifted operator, Dupont has yet to put a foot wrong in his six-year international career. So often the difference between winning and losing, Dupont is at times unplayable and always at the heart of everything positive that French has done in the past four years. 

As such, his role in this year’s Rugby World Cup campaign, which is the culmination of an eight-year project for French Rugby, is critical. 

Thus as he knelt on the sacred grass pitch of the Stade Vélodrome, clutching his cheek following a hard tackle from Namibian Captain Johan Deysel. The tension in the stadium was echoed tenfold around the French Republic. 

Already up by over fifty points, the reasoning as to why Dupont, who had already created four tries and scored one of his own, was still on the pitch remains a mystery. 

Escorted from the field of play and immediately taken to hospital, French head coach Fabien Galthie confirmed the fan's worst nightmares at the post-match press conference. 

“We have a suspected cracked or fractured jaw. 

“We will wait for scans before moving forward,” Galthie said rather dejectedly. 

Fast forward twelve hours, and the initial prognosis would be confirmed by the French Rugby Federation. 

“Antoine Dupont has suffered a maxillo-zygomatic fracture. A specialist surgical opinion has been requested to determine the exact length of the player’s unavailability. Antoine Dupont remains with the France squad,” the FFR statement said. 

Now unsure as to just how long they will be without their talismanic leader, Les Bleus remain a title contender but are no longer the clear favourites. 

To put an exact figure on Dupont’s value to the team is impossible, but to suggest he is worth at least ten points to them each match is not an unrealistic statement. 

Fortunately for the hosts, they will top their group, having already dispatched of the only genuine contenders for the group in New Zealand. 

What waits on the other side is a potential match-up against one of three sides who would have already been a significant challenge in the world’s number one side, Ireland, reigning world champions South Africa and a Scottish side who have been their bogey team of late. 

Just who they will face remains to be seen, but they will have a clearer idea tomorrow evening as Ireland and South Africa square off in the presumptive Pool B decider. 

Either way, a quarterfinal without Dupont is far from ideal for Galthie and his men, who, whilst they have capable replacements, will no doubt feel the impact of his absence. 

Of course, in the positive timeline, the scrumhalf may yet feature at that stage of the competition; however, if reports are correct, it is highly unlikely that he will. 

Potential Captains

Should he be absent as expected, the French will take comfort in knowing there are several strong leaders who could take on the mantle of captain. 

To the fore are two key contributors and strong figures within the group are former captain Charles Ollivon and La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt. 

Starting with Toulon’s Ollivon, who was previously French captain before being struck down by injury, paving the way for Dupont to take over. 

A titanic figure in the backrow who had the respect of both the French public and, more importantly, his teammates. At thirty years old, Ollivon is a senior statesman in the team and, as such, understands the pressure being placed on the squad to deliver a first-ever World Cup. 

Two-time Heineken Champions Cup-winning captain Alldritt is equally qualified to take over the captaincy should it be necessary. Like his backrow teammate, Alldritt leads from the front and is a powerhouse that Les Bleus rely on to get the front foot ball when the going gets tough. 

A proven winner, Alldritt will have the confidence to make the right calls under pressure and, away from the pitch, understand the scrutiny that comes with a major final. 

Despite being just twenty years old like Dupont, he already has 43 test caps to his name and has been a regular in the line-up since making his debut in 2019. 

Scrumhalf Replacements 

Naming two other scrumhalves in the squad, Galthie knows the position inside and out, having been a star in the blue number nine shirt during his playing days. 

The biggest challenge facing the duo of Baptiste Couilloud and Maxime Lucu is their relative lack of experience at the international level. 

Whilst neither are young at twenty-six (Couilloud) and thirty (Lucu), between them, they have just over half the number of caps that Dupont has. 

Due in large part to the captain’s dominance of the position, the two are relative newcomers to the test arena and, as such, have question marks over their ability to deliver under the brightest of lights. 

There is no doubt are immensely skilful, but neither are on the level of Dupont and combined with the fact that first-choice flyhalf Romain Ntamack is also injured, the halfbacks will be the biggest area of concern in this team. 

Currently occupying the flyhalf position is Mathieu Jalbiert, who has been solid in Ntamack’s absence but is untested when operating as the chief playmaker, given Dupont’s ability to control a match. 

Looking Forward 

In reality, there is no ideal outcome for France if Dupont is, in fact, removed from the tournament. 

There is a reason he is labelled as a generational talent, and in simple terms, no player will be able to match his influence as either a captain or playmaker. 

This does not mean that France cannot win the World Cup, such is the strength of their remarkable squad, but it does mean that they are no longer the stand-alone favourites. 

Both Ireland and South Africa, who were already Les Bleus's biggest challengers, will be infinitely more confident taking to the pitch knowing that the biggest threat in the French side is no longer there. 

Yet, as with any team sport, when one player goes down, others will need to stand up. Given this project has been eight years in the making, this team, including the coaches, will need to stand up and adjust accordingly. All is not lost, but the challenge has become a bit tougher.