Dupont carries French hopes into Rugby World Cup ‘battle’ with South Africa

For the winners, a place in the semi-finals and an enticing tie against either a misfiring England or a Fiji side that would be stepping into unknown territory. 

For the losers, however, it would spell an early exit from a tournament that both believe they can win. 

It would be the bitterest of pills for the French, not just the players but the public who have muscled in behind Fabien Galthié‘s team since he took over after a disappointing 2019 World Cup

France have played in three previous finals without ever lifting the Webb Ellis trophy, making the return of their inspirational captain Antoine Dupont all the more important.  

The World Rugby player of the year for 2021 is back in the starting line-up three weeks after fracturing his cheekbone in the pool match against Namibia and will play with a protective face mask. 

Some have questioned the abrasive scrum-half’s quick recovery after his surgeon allowed him to resume contact training this week but the French management was playing it cool.

“We dealt with it in a calm manner,” said Galthié this week.

“We were comfortable because we had time, we didn’t force decisions. We went step by step, we didn’t push whatever it was.”

Read more‘Dynamite’ Dupont leads France’s quest for Rugby World Cup glory

Dupont’s return will inevitably be a boost to the side which is unbeaten on home soil since he was named skipper in November 2021.

But standing in the 26-year-old’s way is Siya Kolisi’s South Africa, the 2019 champions looking for their fourth World Cup triumph.

Despite losing narrowly to Ireland during the group stages they have shown during the tournament why they are second in the world rankings with wins over Scotland, Romania Tonga.

“He’s a big player. Everyone respects him around the world,” flanker Kolisi said of Dupont.

“We as rugby players don’t wish for one and another to be injured, you want to play against the best.

“He’s shown what he can do. He’s important for the French team,” the iconic Kolisi added.

‘Protect Dupont’

Even fully-fit, Dupont would be targeted by Kolisi’s grizzly starting pack, which includes five other winners from 2019’s final.

“There’s no specific strategy to protect Antoine in particular,” said France flanker Charles Ollivon.

“As back-rowers, we have a mission to protect the whole area around the half-backs.

“We will give everything to take them on.”

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber surprised most people with his team selection, starting Cobus Reinach instead of Faf de Klerk at scrum-half and Manie Libbok over Handre Pollard in the No. 10 shirt.

De Klerk and Pollard were crucial in the succesful run to the title four years ago.

The creative Libbok has started seven of the Springboks’ 10 Tests this year but his inaccurate goal-kicking has been a blotch on his record.

“If you just look at the way he drives the team, he’s obviously on form,” Nienaber said.

“He’s playing good rugby. Just looking at what the French will bring to us we feel this is the best shot for us.”

The word ‘physicality’ was used by every player and coach in each of this week’s pre-match press conferences with memories of November 2022’s brutal contest between the outfits fresh in the memory.

Dupont and South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit were shown red cards as a host of players underwent head injury assessments in France’s win.

“I know they’re preparing for the physical battle,” Kolisi said.

“We don’t have to do anything different. 

“That’s what we’re driven on, hard-working physicality, it’s the DNA of our game. 

“The main thing is to bring it for 80 minutes on Saturday,” he added.

The teams:


15-Thomas Ramos, 14-Damian Penaud, 13-Gael Fickou, 12-Jonathan Danty, 11-Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10-Matthieu Jalibert, 9-Antoine Dupont (capt), 8-Gregory Alldritt, 7-Charles Ollivon, 6-Anthony Jelonch, 5-Thibaud Flament, 4-Cameron Woki, 3-Uini Atonio, 2-Peato Mauvaka, 1-Cyril Baille.

Replacements: 16-Pierre Bourgarit, 17-Reda Wardi, 18-Dorian Aldegheri, 19-Romain Taofifenua, 20-Francois Cros, 21-Sekou Macalou, 22-Maxime Lucu, 23-Yoram Moefana.

South Africa

15-Damian Willemse, 14-Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Cheslin Kolbe, 10-Manie Libbok, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (capt), 5-Franco Mostert, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: 16-Deon Fourie, 17-Ox Nche, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-RG Snyman, 20-Kwagga Smith, 21-Faf de Klerk, 22-Handre Pollard, 23-Willie le Roux.


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