Dupont guides France to Sevens glory

rugby02 June 2024 19:22| © AFP

French rugby star Antoine Dupont, one of the home pin-ups for the Paris Olympics, helped France to a 19-5 victory over Argentina in the grand final of the Rugby Sevens Series in Madrid on Sunday.

Dupont, who captains the France 15-a-side team and starred as his club Toulouse won last week's Champions Cup, played the second-half of the final and was instrumental as the French won their first ever Series.

"It's a good group, a good team. I'm very proud of them," said France skipper Paulin Riva. "We have a good, big defence.

"Antoine is the best player in the world, we think! When he's on the pitch we have a lot of confidence."

France coach Jerome Daret said the result was "very important for us before the Olympics".

"The next tournament in Paris will be another story!

"Our aim for Paris is to make a lot of things on the pitch... and give pleasure to the fans."

Daret added: "It's not finished, we have a big target.

"We know in Paris it's a home advantage to be in front of our fans and families."

France, who lost 26-12 to top-ranked Los Pumas in pool play, looked the better composed team throughout the 20-minute final at Atletico Madrid's Civitas Metropolitano Stadium.

The French, ranked fifth, thought they'd opened the scoring through Jean-Pascal Barraque, but his knee was grazed the touchline just before he crossed the try line.

Instead, it was Argentina's Luciano Gonzalez who was first on the scoresheet, the forward producing two powerful hand-offs on Stephen Parez-Edo-Martin and Jefferson-Lee Joseph for a fine individual try.

But France roared back in collective style from a full 100 metres, Joseph linking well to gift Parez-Edo-Martin, who first played rugby as a student at the French lycee in Madrid, a straight run-in to the line.

A Riva conversion handed France a 7-5 halftime lead over Los Pumas, who beat defending two-time Olympic champions Fiji in the semifinal, leaving the South Sea Islanders now 22 Sevens tournaments without a win.

Dupont came on for the second period and made an immediate effect, Rodrigo Isgro yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on of the France scrum-half's midfield pass.

Tomas Elizalde was on hand to cut down Joseph with a brilliant tackle.

But in a game of strong defences, Argentina struggled to clear their lines and Gonzalez was dragged into touch by Rayan Rabbadj and Riva.

From the resulting attacking line-out, for which Dupont acted as hooker, the ball was worked wide and Joseph crossed for France's second try, converted by Barraque.

Dupont then won a turnover penalty. The ball was went wide, was recycled and who other than Dupont was on hand to draw Elizalde and Isgro and produce a perfectly-timed one-handed pass back inside to Riva, who touched down to make it 19-5.

Isgro received a late red card for an illegal tackle and Riva booted the ball high into the stands as Les Bleus celebrated the victory in what is a perfect tonic going into the Paris Olympics, with the men's competition starting on July 24.

Dupont was crowned men's Rookie of the Year after the final, despite having played just three tournaments.

"I was honestly a bit worried before my first tournament so I worked very hard," Dupont said. "There was a good team spirit so it was easy to join in.

The Olympics on home soil at the Stade de France, Dupont added, "will be a huge tournament".

"But we'll try to get that trophy in July."

Australia, Olympic champions when rugby sevens made its Games debut in Rio in 2016, won the women's competition, beating France 26-7 in the final.

Maddison Levi, who scored an impressive hat-trick of tries, said: "We started getting a roll-on when we had more possession.

"Our defence is what is winning us games."