Six NationsThe Counter Ruck

Who is Maxime Lucu, the man set to replace Antoine Dupont?

‘It will be different with Maxime, I don’t think he will try and be Dupont, he will play his own game but he does have some similar strengths’

A festive fixture in Clermont’s raucous Stade Marcel Michelin may well have offered French rugby significant reassurance. If it was needed.

Maxime Lucu, the Bordeaux scrumhalf and presumptive heir to the throne of Antoine Dupont – left vacant as he pursues his Olympic dream with the French sevens side – provided a performance reminiscent of the French talisman. Or at least as close an imitation of the world’s best player as one can get.

Just shy of 10 minutes into the contest, Lucu received an offload under pressure from Yoram Moefana, also a teammate in the French squad. Three metres from his own line, having retreated under the pressure of a swarming kick chase, Lucu arced his run around one defender, showing off a burst of speed. A hard step off his left foot followed, allowing the scrumhalf to beat three more would-be tacklers.

Breaking into the Clermont half, Lucu had the wherewithal to create the final pocket of space. His head on a swivel, constantly scanning, he made a beeline for the next defender. More footwork drew him in, opening the gap for Lucu to send his winger away.


“He was able to see the space,” remarks Bordeaux attack coach Noel McNamara of his scrumhalf’s performance on that late December day. “He demonstrated some other sides to his game, some transition opportunities inside our own half.

“He’s just an outstanding rugby player.”

McNamara, the former Leinster academy manager and Ireland Under-20s head coach, has worked with Lucu since taking up his role with Bordeaux this season. Having worked daily with the scrumhalf over a number of months, he is well positioned to assess how he will rise to the challenge of replacing the biggest name in the sport. The first task comes on Friday when France open their Six Nations campaign against Ireland.

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In Dupont, France are losing their captain, one of their chief game managers, a quality broken field runner and an outstanding defender – as Mack Hansen can attest. Based on what he’s seen, McNamara is convinced Lucu can make a decent stab at plugging the gap.

“He’s an incredible person,” says McNamara of Lucu, speaking on The Counter Ruck podcast. “He was appointed captain for the season at Bordeaux and he’s doing an absolutely fantastic job in that role. He’s probably been one of the core drivers of the team over the last number of weeks, the run of games where we’ve been pretty successful. In terms of his selection, I think it’s a no-brainer. I expect to see him and Matthieu Jalibert at nine and 10 on Friday night.”

The link with Jalibert, Lucu’s teammate at Bordeaux, is pertinent. No one can argue that France are better off without Antoine Dupont, but there is logic to the idea that they will benefit from the cohesion that comes from their halfbacks playing together regularly at club level. Speaking to Midi Olympique this week, Lucu described his relationship with Jalibert as that of “an old married couple without the monotony.”

“For the general public that are expecting to see Antoine Dupont, that’s obviously not what you’re going to see,” acknowledges McNamara. “But what you will see is an outstanding rugby player who will run the game in his own way, manages the game really well.

“He’s a fantastic kicker off both feet, something that is taken for granted over here in France, but is not something everyone can do.

“They talk here about the number of lines they kick across. So if you’re inside the 22 and kick across the 22, across the 10m, across halfway and across the sideline then you’ve crossed four lines. The number of times Maxime Lucu will kick across four lines off both feet is absolutely incredible.”

Lucu also has the ability to kick off the tee. In that win over Clermont, he notched 20 points via the boot.

A strong kicking game off both feet and ability to threaten on the counter? These traits don’t sound overly dissimilar to Monsieur Dupont.

“Dupont has a tendency to bend the game to his own will,” explains McNamara. “That’s the major difference. With how France play, it’s been well documented that they are a team that plays out of possession a lot. If we say Ireland are a possession team that likes to keep the ball, force the defence into making decisions, France are probably the opposite of that.

“They tend to rely on moments and trying to make something happen quickly. That has been one of the real strengths of Dupont over the last number of years with Toulouse and with France.

“It will be different with Maxime. He will play his own game but he does have some similar strengths. His overall game is incredibly rounded, defensively strong, a very strong defensive brain, organisation-wise very, very good. Behind it all he’s a terrific team person as well. His captaincy and leadership for us here at Bordeaux has been absolutely first rate.”

Aged 31, Lucu has had to wait an age for the opportunity to become France’s starter. Timing has worked against him, given his career has largely overlapped with Dupont, four years his junior.

Starting out in the professional ranks with Biarritz, Lucu made the move to Bordeaux after five seasons in his native Basque Country. He quickly settled at Bordeaux, debuting for France in 2021 against Georgia. Since then, Lucu has largely been consigned to bench briefs behind Dupont. Just 19 caps have come his way, despite, aged 31, being in what McNamara says is his “prime”.

Given their recent form, third in the Top 14 and one of the more impressive outfits in Europe this season, those at Bordeaux are convinced Lucu is the man to step up in Dupont’s absence.

The rest of the world will make their own judgment, starting with Friday night’s clash in Marseille.

Noel McNamara was speaking on The Counter Ruck, a brand new Six Nations podcast brought to you by The Irish Times. Subscribe here.

The Counter Ruck is produced in partnership with Nifti Business.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist