France’s superstar scrum-half can rubber-stamp his status as the world’s best player all over again as Les Bleus chase the Webb Ellis Cup across the next seven weeks.
Fabien Galthie’s men will start the quest by hosting New Zealand at Stade de France tonight. France’s Saint-Denis stronghold will cram in some 80,000 this evening, for a sporting spectacle to grip the nation and the rugby world.
Some 450 miles south is the tiny village in which Dupont’s storied career began, in a place populated by just a quarter of those who will attend tonight’s contest.
Not even four months ago, Dupont made a poignant return to Auch, to Jacques-Fouroux Stadium, to relive his humble beginnings. His Toulouse and France team-mate Anthony Jelonch was there, too, as documentary-makers looked to get to the heart of how such a tiny club could generate so many stars.
Auch and its Monumental Staircase landmark have helped so many France stars take their first steps up rugby’s ladder. Dupont is now the most famous of all, and those documentary crews will focus in on one specific junior season where the France scrum-half rewrote numerous records.
Gregory Alldritt will take on the All Blacks as well, and the back-row forward is another to have emerged from this minuscule community outfit.
The wider rugby community cannot quite fathom Auch’s success in churning out top talent. The villagers themselves are in little doubt. Rugby is everything in a heartland for the sport in France, and any starlets produced are naturally pushed towards Toulouse.
The month after Dupont and Jelonch paid that memory-lane visit to Auch, they were back in Toulouse red, toppling La Rochelle 29-26 to lift France’s Top 14 title.
Dupont had inspired his club side to scoop the toughest league crown in all of rugby. Tradition goes that the winners must find a novel way to celebrate with the Bouclier de Brennus. Dupont took the shield to the beach and used it as a skim board in the shallows of the sea.
No one was surprised to learn he did not fall off, for this is one of the most balanced players of all time; not just in terms of his ability to stay on his feet, but also in every facet of rugby acumen.
Dupont boasts an air of Jonny Wilkinson aura about him, but also possesses the supreme confidence of even a maverick like former New Zealand fly-half Carlos Spencer. Former England playmaker Austin Healy even thought he saw shades of Jason Robinson in the young Dupont.
The expectation on Dupont and a similarly-talented France team will be sky high
And so, the expectation on Dupont and a similarly-talented France team will be sky high on this Paris night. New Zealand arrive amid the disarray of their worst-ever international defeat, the 35-7 loss to South Africa at Twickenham last month.
And yet, this is a potent All Blacks team benefiting greatly from Joe Schmidt’s guidance in the backroom staff. The former Ireland boss has added framework and rigour to head coach Ian Foster’s gameplan, and dismissing them on Friday night and across the tournament would be sheer folly.
Captain Sam Cane is not quite Richie McCaw, but no one could stand such comparison, but Ardie Savea might yet summon enough spirit to merit discussion among the All Blacks’ finest No8s.
New Zealand’s lax discipline will hang over them like the sword of Damocles. Where the northern hemisphere has come to terms with red-card risk, the south wants that reined in.
Any further cultural disconnect will dent New Zealand’s chances at this tournament — unless the boys from Auch do that anyway.