Warren Gatland: Antoine Dupont’s Six Nations absence ‘a massive loss for France’

By Sports Desk March 09, 2024

Warren Gatland believes that Antoine Dupont’s absence from the Guinness Six Nations has proved “a massive loss” for France.

Les Bleus’ mercurial World Cup captain has joined the sevens circuit ahead of the Paris Olympics later this year.

And France have struggled without him, being beaten comprehensively by Six Nations title favourites Ireland and then drawing at home against Italy, either side of narrowly defeating Scotland.

They tackle Wales at the Principality Stadium on Sunday, when Gatland’s team will target a first Six Nations victory over them since 2019.

“It just shows when you are with a team – and we have been lucky enough with this in the past and it is the challenge going forward – that having two or three X-factor players in your team can make a massive difference,” Wales head coach Gatland said.

“Sometimes you get two relatively even teams, but it is the individual brilliance of someone who can change a game.

“There is no doubt for me that Dupont is a massive loss for them. He is probably the best player in the world.

“We have already seen what he has done with the French sevens team. They won the sevens tournament (in Los Angeles).

“(Romain) Ntamack is a big loss for them in terms of that nine-10 partnership. It is difficult to put your finger on it.

“They have made some changes. They have probably thought they don’t feel like they can win the Six Nations, so there is a chance to give players in their squad an opportunity.”

Whether Wales can take advantage of France’s current position remains to be seen.

Gatland’s team have yet to win in this season’s tournament, raising the potential scenario of a wooden-spoon decider against Italy next weekend if they do not triumph on Sunday.

It is 21 years since Wales last finished bottom of the Six Nations table, although they were fifth in three of the past four seasons.

Considerable interest will surround the appearance of a new centre pairing, with Six Nations debutant Joe Roberts partnering Owen Watkin after Gatland left out George North and Nick Tompkins.

And captain Dafydd Jenkins has been moved from lock to blindside flanker as Will Rowlands and Adam Beard team up in the second-row.

Gatland added: “We’ve spoken to the two boys (Roberts and Watkin) about their roles. They have got a chance to make a statement.

“The big thing for them – what I am looking for – is not about them playing, but them being vocal, making sure they communicate to the 10s and take that communication from the outside.

“That is a massive thing for us in terms of work-on, but also them realising how vocal they need to be in attack and defence.

“We had spoken early in the tournament about giving Daf that chance (at blindside). He was pretty excited when we did talk about it in one of the earlier games.

“When we said we were playing him at second-row, he joked we didn’t have the guts to put him in the back-row!

“It is a good chance as a young player to get that opportunity in a different position.

“We know what a big pack France will put out and particularly that first 20 or 30 minutes. They were really direct against Italy in that time and could have been three tries up.

“We have got to expect a real physical challenge, particularly in the early exchanges of the game.”

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    MATCH PREDICTION – FRANCE WIN

    France enter Euro 2024 as one of the favourites, with the Opta supercomputer giving them a 19.1 per cent chance of lifting the trophy before the tournament began. They are expected to live up to that billing here.

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    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Austria – 15.5% 

    France – 65.8%

    Draw – 18.7%

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