Dupont's display against Leinster was mesmeric and majestic

The Toulouse scrum-half was the difference between the teams in London.

IT TOOK JUST 58 seconds for Antoine Dupont to make his presence felt and he barely let up from there in an astonishing performance in the Champions Cup final.

We already knew Dupont was the best player in the world but his influence on Toulouse’s win over Leinster was spectacular. 

He was involved from the off. Leinster kick clear from deep in their half and when the ball comes down from the aerial contest, Dupont reacts well to reel it in and set off in his inimitable style.


Many of us are taught early on not to run across the pitch but Dupont has made an art form of exactly that.

In this instance, he swats past Ryan Baird, gets outside Caelan Doris, and draws in Ross Byrne before passing.

With out-half Romain Ntamack then calmly stepping inside the onrushing Jamie Osborne and punching forward, Toulouse have suddenly left Leinster with the bulk of their team clustered on one side of the pitch.


Toulouse sense their chance to keep playing to Leinster’s left, testing their ability to catch up on that side of the pitch, which Leinster never fully do.

Dupont keeps the tempo high as he scoops from Ntamack’s carry and hits prop Cyril Baille coming around the corner, with the prop skillfully tipping the ball on to Jack Willis.


Doris gets a hand onto the ball to slow it down slightly here but is warned away by referee Matthew Carley as Dupont scoops again.

His next act is subtle but important in preserving space for his team.

Outside centre Paul Costes runs a great line against the grain [yellow below] to lure Leinster lock Jason Jenkins [red] in.


What Dupont does so well is delay his pass out the back, serving two purposes.

Firstly, Dupont’s short scoot off the base of the breakdown fully engages Ross Byrne [green below].


Secondly, Dupont’s ‘double pump,’ where he dummies a pass before actually releasing the ball ensures that Jenkins fully bites down on Costes’ running line.

If Dupont passes in the moment below – before the dummy – Jenkins might be able to read out the back of Costes and not commit onto the centre.


But as Dupont dummies, Jenkins can see Byrne committing onto the scrum-half and as Jenkins turns his head to look at the options in front of him, he’s lured onto the Costes line.


It’s also important that there are passing options available to Dupont on the inside of the actual recipient, Emmanueal Meafou. Those runners closer to Dupont make life even more complicated for Byrne and Jenkins.

Dupont magnifies the opportunity with his movement and delay on the pass.


As we can see above, second row Thibaud Flament could also go through the hole between Jenkins and James Lowe but realises that Dupont’s pass is intended for Meafou and leaves the ball for his lock partner.

Meafou makes a good call not to pass pre-contact, instead accelerating in behind Lowe and continuing to trundle upfield as the Leinster wing grabs his jersey. Meafou cleverly dummies a one-handed offload that Hugo Keenan buys, allowing the Toulouse lock in behind him too, before a two-handed offload to Juan Cruz Mallía.


The Argentina wing has little time and space but gets an excellent grubber kick away before Andrew Porter can tackle him.

Mallía knows that someone – most likely Dupont – will work up on the inside to at least compete for a regather. It’s easy to overcook a kick like this but Mallía nails the skill to send Dupont into a race with Jamison Gibson-Park, who has been a little slow to start across from the far side of the backfield but ends up making a brilliant tackle to deny Toulouse a second-minute try.


It’s a matter of inches. Even though he is tackled into touch, Dupont still shows his class. In the split-second he gathers the ball, he gets his left arm free in a bid to fend Gibson-Park and then he leaves up a delightful offload.

We don’t know if Mallía gives him a shout as he slaloms back in from alongside the advertising hoarding or if Dupont is just offloading-and-hoping. Either way, it’s nearly an amazing assist. It’s not to be but Toulouse have fired a big warning shot.

This was only the start of Dupont’s mesmeric influence on the final.

Toulouse collectively earned the win, particularly with their outstanding defensive effort in making 238 tackles, but it’s also fair to suggest that Dupont was the real difference between the sides. Take him out of the equation and Leinster almost certainly win.

Time and time again, he produced huge moments that showed his complete skillset and winner’s mentality. Usually, Dupont’s most eye-catching work comes in attack but his defensive impact was monumental in this game.

Even still, moments like the one above were crucial, while it was a Dupont play that resulted in Lowe being sin-binned early in extra time.


As the ball is being recycled, Dupont is scanning the shortside as he decides where to go next.


He identifies that Osborne is relatively tight to the breakdown and even though there isn’t an immediately obvious overlap for Toulouse, he senses that he can exploit the spacing between Osborne and Lowe, who isn’t quite in the frontline.


Lowe appears to be worried about a kick in behind, although we can see fullback Keenan on the very right of the shot above covering in the backfield.

So Dupont senses an opportunity and scoots off the breakdown again. Osborne reacts by shooting up aggressively to close down the short passing options of Mallía and hooker Julien Marchand.


But Dupont is calm as he dummies the pass and arcs in behind Osborne, cleverly lifting the ball up high to avoid it being snagged by either Osborne or James Ryan coming from the inside.


Once he has the ball in behind the double tackle, the obvious thing to do is drop an offload to Marchand but Dupont recognises that Lowe is now closing up aggressively onto the Toulouse hooker.


Instead, Dupont opts for a basketball-style offload from his chest, aiming for Blair Kinghorn close to the touchline.

It’s fantastic vision but also skill to play the pass while Ryan is tackling him.

Lowe instinctively fires up his hands as Dupont offloads, the ball ricochets off his left and flies forward into touch.

As mentioned before, Keenan is in the backfield providing cover and there is no clear-cut try-scoring chance but Kinghorn has an opportunity to get upfield here for what would constitute a linebreak.


“He’s not got a realistic chance to catch that,” says referee Carley as they review the play. “Yellow card.”

Dupont’s ability to compute and execute in split-seconds puts Leinster in a tough spot and with Lowe in the bin, Toulouse score the first try of the game two less than two minutes later.

While there wasn’t as much opportunity as usual for Dupont to break free in this game, he was still Toulouse’s top ball-carrier with 16 carries, six more than any of their forwards. He is relentless in searching for chances, catching Leinster off guard with this tapped penalty only for Mallía to misplace his pass.


It was a surprise to see Leinster caught out by Dupont in this way, having presumably discussed the need for ceaseless focus on him. Mallía’s pass was a let-off.

Dupont beat the joint-most defenders of any player in the final along with Robbie Henshaw on six.

He shows the power of his fend on Rónan Kelleher here.


Dupont’s comfort in open space is obvious in the instance below as Toulouse counter-attack, leading to the moment where Matthis Lebel nearly scores but is denied by Jordan Larmour in the left corner.


While he was able to demonstrate some of his attacking quality with ball in hand, Dupont had far bigger moments in defence in the Champions Cup final.

Dupont has always been a powerful defender – one of his points of difference over many scrum-halves – and his ability to make strips or ‘reefs’ in the tackle is a strength.

But having been with the France 7s earlier this season, his jackaling at the breakdown has also been fine-tuned.

Four breakdown poaches in one game would be a stunning return for the best openside in the world, never mind a scrum-half.

Dupont’s first comes in the the 29th minute after he has been pickpocketed by Dan Sheehan. The Toulouse scrum-half attempts a blind inside pass and Sheehan does superbly to hold the ball and then stunningly step Ntamack to break upfield.


Dupont shows his desire and pace to track back as Sheehan gallops downfield.


Sheehan’s speed is remarkable for a hooker, while Blair Kinghorn shows his to work back across and tackle the Leinster man, who attempts a fend on the Toulouse fullback but still gets grounded.

The other player in the mix is Osborne but the effort from Dupont takes him past the Leinser centre and allows him to win the race to the breakdown.

Dupont swings his legs in behind the tackle, ensuring he’s legally entering the breakdown, and clamps his hands onto the ball just before Osborne makes contact with him.


This is a great initial picture for referee Carley, who is about five metres away.

The situation changes very quickly though as Osborne looks to pull Dupont away from the ball and off to the side with a ‘croc roll’ technique.


It’s a big call for Carley to make having just sprinted 55 metres himself.

Dupont clearly wins the race to the ball but does he get a lift of it to earn the turnover, as referees often demand? Does Osborne remove his hands quickly enough to prevent it being classed as Sheehan holding on? Does Dupont have another go at the ball when off his feet? Carley has to filter all of this very quickly. The call goes Dupont’s way.

“He’s in a good position, 12 pulled him to the floor,” says Carley after awarding Toulouse the penalty.

Dupont actually appeals to Carley about the circumstances of Sheehan pilfering the ball in the first place, but he knows he has come out on the right side of a tight breakdown call.

To be fair, Dupont wins the race to get into an excellent position and keeps his left hand on the ball throughout the battle with Osborne, who will probably feel he could have made a more impactful dent on Dupont with his arrival. Toulouse’s 6-3 lead remains intact.

Dupont’s next jackal steal is equally important. It comes in the 73rd minute with Toulouse 15-12 up but Leinster on a roll in attack. 

They sense their chance to finally crack the Toulouse defence but Dupont wins a remarkable turnover just six metres out from his own tryline.


Kelleher makes a strong carry but Dupont joins to help complete the tackle and then shows an astonishingly quick release before snapping onto the ball.

Josh van der Flier is in close proximity here and probably felt well positioned for a clearout but Dupont’s sheer speed beats him. It’s a crucial moment when Leinster felt their attack was rolling.

Dupont’s third poach comes just after Ciarán Frawley’s drop goal effort slips wide in the last minute of regular time. Leinster get one last chance off the 22-metre restart, one final opportunity to drive into drop-goal territory, but Dupont intervenes.

On second phase, he pounces after the ball bobbles out of the breakdown and van der Flier has to carry.


Again, it’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stuff but repeat viewings allow us to appreciate how rapidly Dupont releases from his involvement in getting van der Flier to ground and then clamps onto the ball.

His strength is also evident as he rides a big clearout effort from Doris. It’s a brilliant poach to deny Leinster their last shot at grabbing victory in regular time.

Dupont also made the jackal steal that appeared to copperfasten Toulouse’s win in extra time, only for a penalty reversal and red card for Richie Arnold to give Leinster a lifeline.


Gibson-Park gathers the bobbling ball after a Keenan offload and Dupont hunts with the instincts of a flanker, again winning the race to the ball ahead of Osborne and the retreating Cian Healy.

Carley initially awards Dupont the penalty but we can see that Arnold arrives to make head contact with Healy which is flagged by the TMO.

In the first half, Dupont also assisted a breakdown penalty win by Ntamack.

Dupont’s turnovers in this game also included a superb effort at the maul when it looked like Leinster might have finally found an opening in that area after several previous frustrations.

The score is tied at 9-9 when Leinster take their shot in the 52nd minute. The maul makes good progress infield and as it shears to the right, there’s major danger for Toulouse. Dupont is positioned in front of the maul as it breaks off to the right.


What is most striking is the clarity of decision-making in the next two seconds.

Doris leads Leinster’s break and the obvious thing to do for most players in Dupont’s position would be to hit that front edge as hard as possible, looking to slow the momentum.


But Dupont has the presence of mind to realise that he still has a chance of getting at the ball, which hooker Sheehan is carrying behind Doris.


Dupont’s calmness is evident in his body language. He is very quickly considering the best means of stopping Leinster.

And so watch below as he swats away from Doris and then instead engages with Sheehan as that side of the break swings up towards the tryline.


Had Dupont engaged with Doris, there’s a decent chance Sheehan would have burst through and powered on towards the tryline to attempt a finish.

Instead, Dupont hammers into him, immediately targeting the ball.


Recognising that he’s been wrapped up, Sheehan looks to wrench free of contact and get to ground but Dupont is able to swarm in on the ball and make sure it has no chance of coming back on Leinster’s side.

To be fair, we should highlight Jack Willis’ involvement here too, reaching over the top to get a hand on Sheehan’s jersey and helping Dupont to complete the choke, but the scrum-half’s effort is simply brilliant. It’s a huge moment in the game once again.

Even when not physically involved in turnovers or tackles, Dupont was able to make positive defensive plays for Leinster. Watch his cover work on Gibson-Park below.


A slick delayed pass by Byrne has slipped Porter into a hole and if Dupont isn’t covering across, the Leinster loosehead is sending Gibson-Park under the posts with an offload.

But Porter can see Dupont coming across at high speed and opts against the offload, with Dupont then rather cheekily shoving Gibson-Park to ground in a manner that lets his opposite number know he’s being watched closely.

The other area in which Dupont had a titanic influence in this game was through his kicking.

His 19 kicks in play were the most of any player, with opposite number Gibson-Park closest on 12 and no other player hitting double figures. Whatever about the quantity, it was the sheer quality of Dupont’s kicking game that impressed.

He had two 50:22 kicks, the first coming in the 33rd minute after Toulouse’s attack failed to get moving forward. It’s slow ball but watch how Dupont is scanning again, checking for space in the backfield as well as around the breakdown.


Having won the gainline, Leinster are well aware that a kick is likely to come here, but the Toulouse set-up lulls them into a false sense of security.

As we can see below, Toulouse get a caterpillar in place, suggesting that Dupont will launch a more traditional box kick, hanging it up for the chasing line to compete for.


Leinster are set up with a 13+2 defence here, meaning they have 13 in the frontline with two backfield defenders. 

Generally, 50:22s happen when the defence has only one defender in the backfield or is in the process of getting defenders back into position. But Leinster have had ample time to set themselves here.

As we can see below, Keenan and Byrne are the two backfield defenders below.


Keenan is positioned on the 15-metre channel on the left-hand side but we can see that Byrne is a few metres infield of the right-hand 15-metre line, perhaps because he feels that the traditional high contestable box kick is coming.

So as he scans, Dupont picks out the possible chance for the 50:22, one that many players simply wouldn’t envisage here.

The Toulouse scrum-half knows that his kick needs to be on a low trajectory and very close to the touchline, giving Byrne no time to recover out and catch the ball on the bounce.

So as Dupont lifts the ball, he takes rapid steps back downfield to buy himself additional space to get his kick away before Baird [yellow below] can get to him.


With Dupont kicking so low, it’s a matter of inches between Baird blocking the ball and it lasering beyond him.


The speed and accuracy of Dupont’s kick is astonishing.


It’s a marginal thing close to the touchline but Dupont absolutely nails it.


50:22s have become big momentum givers in rugby in recent years and this one is sickening for Leinster after an excellent defensive set in which they drove Toulouse back.

All of a sudden, they’re defending a lineout inside their own 22 and the resulting pressure and field position eventually yield three points off the tee for Toulouse.

Dupont’s second 50:22 came in the first half of extra time and also resulted in pressure leading to three points. It comes after a Leinster box-kick, with Gibson-Park staying in the backfield after kicking.


Thomas Ramos wins the high ball for Toulouse and is tackled just after landing.

As the ball is recycled, we can see Dupont calmly standing still, allowing others to do their job at the breakdown and instead scanning upfield once again.


We don’t have a wide-angle view of Gibson-Park’s positioning here but Dupont decides that there’s an opportunity along the touchline and in behind the Leinster scrum-half.

Dupont’s movement away from the breakdown is less aggressive here as he doesn’t sense the same kind of pressure as Baird was applying for the first 50:22.

So he gets to his kick away quicker but with that same low trajectory that gives Gibson-Park little time to recover.


It seems likely that Dupont intended for his kick to bounce for the first time further upfield but the low trajectory means that Gibson-Park, scrambling to turn out and back, can’t recover before it rolls into touch just inside the Leinster 22.

The Toulouse maul powers up from the ensuing lineout and they win a penalty to go 25-15 in front.

Dupont’s kicking influence isn’t finished just yet, with two of his kicks in the second half of extra time proving important.

Leinster score just before the break to get to within three points at 25-22, so the contest is live again.

After Toulouse receive the restart, Dupont launches a box kick down the left and Keenan makes an error.


It’s certainly Dupont’s intention to hang his kick as close to the touchline as possible but this is close to being an error on his part.

If Keenan leaves the kick, it goes out on the full and Leinster get an attacking lineout just outside the Toulouse 22. Fine margins.


Instead, it’s Leinster defending inside their own half and Doris gives away a sloppy breakdown penalty that Ramos kicks for a 28-22 lead.

Frawleys lands his restart on Dupont and he responds with a magnificent clearing kick to touch nearly 10 metres inside the Leinster half. It’s a whopper of a kick from Dupont.


From the ensuing lineout, Toulouse apply more pressure and Leinster are sloppy again to given up another breakdown penalty.

Ramos makes it 31-22 off the tee and that’s essentially game over with less than five minutes remaining in extra time.

All of the kicks above come from Dupont’s right foot but he is also excellent off his left side.

The left-footed effort below comes at the start of the second half of regular time, Dupont delivering a huge exit kick from a central position.


This is a monster of a kick from Dupont as he ekes out every last inch to find touch on the Leinster 10-metre line. 

While Dupont favours his right foot, being able to use his left means the opposition defence can never be certain of what’s coming. He regularly shapes to kick on one foot then rapidly adjusts to kick on the other side, keeping everyone on high alert.

Toulouse also do that collectively, as they showed in the 59th minute against Leinster.

Dupont appears to be setting up for a box kick as normal.


As he does so, Leinster are beginning to move to work downfield for when he kicks.


But Toulouse have set up a run exit play, with centre Santiago Chocobares [yellow below] ready to accept a pass from Dupont and drop it out the back to Ramos [red].


Toulouse catch Leinster off guard again as Dupont rips a delightful pass – one of his other strengths – to Chocobares and they play out to the right edge.


Leinster do hustle well when they realise what’s happening, with Tadhg Furlong making a lung-busting sprint cross-field, but Toulouse get the ball wide to Kinghorn, who kicks long into the Leinster backfield.

Keenan has to cover all the way across from the other side of the backfield to deal with Kinghorn’s kick.


Keenan then has no other real option than to clear to touch.


Toulouse get a lineout just inside their own half, making this a highly successful exit.

Let’s not forget that Dupoint was able to apply pressure to Leinster’s kicking game too.

He made a blockdown on Lowe in the first half that fell kindly for the Irish province.


Dupont’s timing and acceleration are critical here but there is also intelligence involved.

The obvious angle of approach for a block would be to go at Lowe’s left side, given that he’s left-footed.


But Dupont actually deviates his line of running infield over to Lowe’s right-hand side.


That’s because Dupont knows Lowe has a powerful left boot and so his angle of kicking is less towards the touchline than other left-footers might be.

The late change of angle from Dupont helps him to get the block, as does the relatively late raising of his arms.


Getting the arms up as late as possible means Dupont can sprint for a little longer but also that there’s no early cue for Lowe to potentially pick up in his peripheral vision.

Leinster get a good ricochet as the ball lands into Baird’s arms and he hacks clear to touch in relief.

Dupont was at the heart of everything good Toulouse did in this final. He produced several game-defining moments and underlined that he is the best player in the world.

There were errors in there, including four turnovers conceded an offside penalty, but there’s no doubt that Dupont is one of the main reasons Toulouse are champions.

He was relentless, all the way until the final whistle of extra time.

Indeed, as Frawley takes another drop goal attempt in the final minute, hoping to draw Leinster within six points and ensure one last possession off the restart, it’s Dupont applying pressure.

The scrum-half is defending on Toulouse’s left edge throughout the passage.


Usually, a player in this defensive role would hold their position on the left edge until required to defend on that side, or if they had to drop into the backfield.

But Dupont, as ever, understands what Leinster are about to try.

We don’t have the wide angles here but as Leinster play a few phases, Dupont either swaps into a more central position or hares all the way in from that left edge to get at Frawley when he looks to pull the trigger.


Either way, it’s an unorthodox angle of approach given that players close to the ruck usually apply most pressure on drop goal attempts.

But the all-seeing Dupont is there in front of Frawley as he looks to get his shot away.


With that pressure coming from his right side, Frawley pulls his drop goal to the left and wide.

This effort epitomises Dupont’s performance. Hard-working, intelligent, and relentlessly influential. He was a joy and privilege to watch.

The scary thing is that he’s still only 27, so should be coming into his prime in the next few years.

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