Dupont, Ntamack leading France's revival under Galthie

Paris (AFP) –


France just missed out on their first Six Nations title in a decade despite a home win over Ireland in a scintillating display created, controlled and decided by young half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

The Toulouse pair started the campaign's five matches together scoring 85 of les Bleus' tournament-leading 138 points by repaying the faith shown in them by head coach Fabien Galthie, a conviction rarely seen by many of Galthie's predecessors.

The only time Ntamack failed to put his name on the scoresheet this year was in March's loss at Scotland, their only defeat as they finished second in the table for the first time since 2011, when the 21-year-old was substituted after seven minutes with a head injury.

Dupont, who only turns 24 in mid-November, was as crucial as his club team-mate and has featured in all but 28 of his country's 480 minutes since Galthie took over, which has also included a Test in over Wales.

"In the building of our team and our gameplan it's important we have players who are used to playing together at this level which is very different compared to other levels," Galthie said following the 35-27 success at the Stade de France.

"They, like the team, matured a lot during this competition with what they’ve experienced.

"We're very happy with our half-backs, with their match as was the case with matches beforehand," the former Test scrum-half added.

Dupont has been nicknamed "The Interior Minister" following his efforts this autumn as he scored three times with intelligent inside support lines, making the most of outside breaks from Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas.

Under-20s Six Nations and junior world champion Ntamack came through the academy at Toulouse, the record 20-time French champions where his father Emile won domestic and European titles.

- 'Brilliance' -

Ntamack junior and partner Dupont have started 12 Internationals together at half-back, compared to just the seven games for their Top 14 side with Ntamack being used at inside centre during the earlier stages of his senior career and Dupont suffering injuries.

Against Ireland the pair dominated the far more experienced visiting combination of Conor Murray and 2018 World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton.

"They can create something out of nothing. That's what they’ve done throughout the Championship," Sexton said after the loss in Paris.

"We studied them hard. There were a couple of tries from our mistakes obviously and a couple of moments of brilliance from them."

Next up for the 2023 World Cup hosts is the Autumn Nations Cup but it is unlikely Dupont and Ntamack will feature much in the competition.

They have played two out of the maximum of three games for each squad member as dictated by an agreement between the Top 14 clubs and the French Federation.

"What we want is consistency and regularity," Galthie said last week.

Unfortunately Galthie will be denied the chance to see more from his in-form half-backs just as they announce themselves as les Bleus' hopes for not just the future but the present.