PARIS (Reuters) – France captain Antoine Dupont faces a race against the clock to be fully fit to play against South Africa as the mercurial scrumhalf resumes full training only five days before Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final clash.
Dupont was given the green light by the surgeon to play rugby again two and a half weeks after an operation on a broken cheekbone and will need to be back to full fitness to take part in the brutal challenge of facing the defending champions.
Such is Dupont’s influence on the team and their game that having him start at the Stade de France would be a major asset, but the French staff will not take any risks and they know that in Maxime Lucu they have a solid replacement.
“If Antoine comes back (in the starting lineup), it’s because he’ll be fully fit,” France health manager Bruno Boussagol said.
Defence coach Shaun Edwards was very optimistic that the 26-year-old Dupont will be ready to start against the Springboks.
“We’re confident he’ll be able to play against the Springboks on Sunday,” Edwards wrote in his column for The Daily Mail. “Given the level of player he is, I would back him to go straight into the team. He’s a leader.
“As defence coach, I’ll be spending a bit of extra time with him this week to get him ready. We’ll do a bit of extra tackling work because he’s not taken contact for a few weeks.”
Should head coach Fabien Galthie rule that Dupont cannot play or start on Sunday his replacement Lucu showed he could make flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert shine in France’s 60-7 drubbing of Italy and his defensive work has surely impressed Edwards.
“I’m giving Maxime the defensive player of the week because of his tackling and the way he got us out of our own 22 against Italy on Friday night,” Edwards wrote.
“We call it sorties de camp – exit plays. He was kicking with right and left foot like Antoine does and his prize will be a bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne.”
Dupont now has two titanium plates on his cheekbone and, while it is technically safe for him to play, he might have some apprehension, although South Africa have said they would not target him for that reason.
“He’s a great player and he gives the team a lot of confidence. But it doesn’t affect us he if plays or doesn’t,” South Africa scrumhalf Faf de Klerk told reporters on Monday.
“We prepare to face the team, not individuals. That said, for me personally it’s always good to face the world’s best.”
(Additional reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)