Captain Antoine Dupont has declared himself “fully ready” to lead France in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against South Africa as he prepares to return to the starting XV just over three weeks after a broken cheekbone had him fearing his involvement in the tournament was over.
The 2021 world player of the year underwent surgery after going off injured following a head-on-head tackle from Namibia captain Johan Deysel in Les Bleus’ third pool match in Marseille on September 21, leaving the host nation fretting about their talisman’s availability for the remainder of the competition.
After returning to full training this week, Dupont has satisfied medics and coaching staff that he is ready to start Sunday’s box-office Stade de France showdown with the world champions.
“I feel very well,” said the 26-year-old scrum-half, speaking at Les Bleus’ team announcement press conference at Roland Garros on Friday.
“At the time, I didn’t know how serious the injury was so I thought the competition was over for me.
“I had to wait to get my hope back. I was lucky enough to have several weeks to rejuvenate and repair and have a full training week with the group.
“Today I am fully capable to be ready for this game on Sunday.”
Dupont admitted coming through training unscathed this week was a big thing for his mindset as he dismissed any suggestion that he has been rushed back into action ahead of schedule.
“It was quite progressive,” he said of his return to play. “I started low-intensity running and went up and up – and the same with contact. I started in the middle of last week.
“This week I was able to train fully and get back into game and contact situations which enabled me to get my confidence back.
“I’m fully ready and fit and had no pains. It was important to validate each stage of my recovery.
“I didn’t feel any pressure from the staff. It all happened quite naturally.
“I have the surgeon’s approval. Nothing was forced. We have all been working for four years to get to this stage so not to play with the handbrake on is the main thing.
“I knew if I wasn’t able to play, I would be replaced.”
Dupont has been experimenting with various forms of facial protection since his injury and he confirmed on Friday that he would wear a scrum cap against South Africa.
“It’s the surgeon’s wish, he suggested it,” said the captain. “Actually, he more than suggested it! I tested a scrum cap this week and it doesn’t bother my vision so I will be wearing it.”
Dupont has no concerns about returning to action against arguably the most physical nation on the planet.
“In these games there will always be a little bit of pain either physically or mentally,” he said. “Every time we play against big nations and when the stakes are high, they are always hard and physical.
“We need to be ready to suffer. We have high goals. We know it will be very hard and if we’re not ready for that, then I don’t think we’re ready for where we want to get to.”
Head coach Fabien Galthie was content that Dupont was fit enough to play.
“We treated the subject in a very relaxed way,” he said. “We were comfortable because we had some time and never pushed things. We took things step by step. Antoine has had time to recuperate.”
France have not lost on home soil since Scotland defeated them in a Six Nations match behind closed doors two-and-a-half years ago. Galthie is relishing the challenge of trying to prolong that run by ending the Springboks’ defence of the Webb Ellis Cup.
“To play such an opponent, who are world champions and beat the (British and Irish) Lions, they’re a team that’s all conquering and a team that inspired us a lot,” said the head coach.
“For us, what’s at stake is to simply play rugby with pleasure as a team and with ambition. We want to meet this challenge as we always have done.”
France team to face South Africa in Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final
Forwards: 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 3 Uini Atonio, 4 Cameron Woki, 5 Thibaud Flament, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 7 Charles Ollivon, 8 Gregory Alldritt
Backs: 9 Antoine Dupont (Captain), 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 12 Jonathan Danty, 13 Gael Fickou, 14 Damian Penaud, 15 Thomas Ramos
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