French rugby woke up feeling a little distraught the morning after their nightmare scenario came to pass. It would be impossible to measure the groans and angst as television showed the slow motion replays of the Namibia captain Johan Deysel clattering into the side of Antoine Dupont’s face before the distraught French captain, scrumhalf and talisman was led off the pitch with his hand covering his eyes.
The incident completely overshadowed the 96-0 win over Namibia. Afterwards, Fabien Galthié admitted his team’s scrumhalf and talisman had suffered a suspected fracture and sure enough, but everyone suspected the worse.
“Dupont, pas la joie,” was the headline in Friday’s L’Équipe, which inside wrote of a “nuage noir (black night) dans les grand bleus”.
“Peur bleu,” or “blue fear” was the front page heading in the twice weekly Midi Olympique above a picture of Dupont on one knee with a sponge to the right side of his face.
Assistant coach Laurent Labit admitted that Dupont himself had feared the worst after being taken off in the 46th minute. Dupont was taken to the Provence Private Hospital to undergo additional examinations. After a night spent in this hospital, sure enough the French camp confirmed the worst, that the French captain had suffered a maxillo-zygomatic fracture.
Dupont has returned to to Toulouse, where he will undergo an operation by a surgeon who specialises in this type of injury, Professor Frédéric Lauwers, with a view, most likely, to an operation.
Speaking to the news agency AFP, Toulouse president Didier Lacroix confirmed a report in Depeche du Midi. “Professor Lauwers, an expert in facial surgery, will also examine Antoine to define which is the best route to take, whether he needs an operation or not. This step will be taken first so as to ensure the health of the player.”
As we have seen with recuperation from fractured jaws before with both Brian O’Driscoll and Johnny Sexton can be surprisingly quick and Dupont’s Rugby World Cup is not necessarily over.
However, well-informed and qualified people in this area estimate that an operation would sideline Dupont for three to six weeks, which seriously compromises the possibility of the French captain playing any further part in this World Cup.
The quarter-finals are three weeks away, the semi-finals four and the final is five weeks from this weekend. Dupont is in a race against time.
While there has been some encouragement in Anthony Jelonch’s return, the French must be wondering if this team is a little cursed. Dupont’s injury follows that of his club and international halfback partner Romain Ntamack being ruled out of the World Cup in its entirety, and two more Toulouse players Cyril Baille and Julian Marchand have also been sidelined.
“C’est la guerre,” shrugged my waiter, in classic Parisian mode, as he looked over the covers of Midi Olympique and L’Équipe on the table, but one imagines the vast majority of those supporting Les Bleus are so sanguine.
As with Ntamack, first and foremost it is a cruel blow for Dupont himself. The brilliant 26-year-old is at the peak of his powers and could now miss a once-in-a-lifetime World Cup on home soil. It has to be damaging for Les Bleus and their hopes of winning the World Cup for the first time. Baptiste Couilloud and Maxime Lucu are fine scrumhalves, but there is only one Antoine Dupont.
One presumes the French management will persevere with the latter duo for as long as possible, so as to give their talisman every chance of making a return in the semi-final or final, and imagine what a boost that would be for Les Bleus.
But as things stand the loss of Dupont midway through the pool stages has uncanny echoes of Dan Carter being sidelined at the same juncture of a home World Cup in 2011. Given how rugby-obsessed New Zealand is, it truly did seem fair to say that a country went into mourning.
Maybe it was so many people dressed in black. But sitting in a downtown cafe in Wellington that morning, the decibel levels were discernibly lower. Not so in busy, buzzy, cosmopolitan Paris of course.
The 2011 World Cup was never quite the same after Carter suffered an injury while practising his goal-kicking, something he would have done nearly every day of his rugby-playing life. The All Blacks still managed to stumble over the line, which demonstrates that France can most definitely still win this World Cup.
But Dupont’s injury again highlights the toll on modern-day rugby players, as manifest in the absence of so many high-profile Test players at this World Cup. It also sheds a further light on rugby’s need to continue its campaign against high hits, and for more of the rugby playing world to come aboard.
Indeed, watching those slightly shocking replays of Deysel clattering head-on-head into Dupont, the thought occurred again as to why there almost seem to be more high hits than ever, when there should be less?
If Dupont doesn’t make it back and it transpires that anyone else wins this World Cup in France, it will always come with the caveat that the great man was sidelined in the 44th minute of France’s third pool game.
Ultimately, any World Cup which loses the world’s best player is simply the poorer for his absence.