France’s hopes of lifting their first World Cup have suffered a huge blow after Antoine Dupont, widely regarded as the world’s best player, sustained a fractured jawbone in Thursday’s record victory over Namibia.
Dupont’s availability for the rest of the tournament is in doubt after France confirmed on Friday morning their captain had suffered a “maxillo-zygomatic facial fracture” (upper jaw). Advice from a specialist surgeon has been sought to ascertain the length of Dupont’s unavailability.
RMC Sport, a respected French sports news outlet, reported on Friday morning that Dupont would return to Toulouse - the city of his club, Stade Toulousain. The scrum-half, according to RMC, is expected on Friday at the city’s Hospital Purpan for further examinations of the scan which took place in Aix-en-Provence after the match in Marseille on Thursday night.
At the hospital, RMC add, Dupont will meet with two Professors - Sans and Lauwers - to discuss a plan going forward. Should the 26-year-old require surgery, that will be the end of his World Cup. If surgery is not needed, then a treatment plan will be discussed to expedite Dupont’s return to the field, taking into account the exceptional circumstances of the situation.
France attack coach Laurent Labit confirmed on Friday morning there will be no update on the timeframe of Dupont’s return until Sunday at the earliest.
“We will leave [it] for two, three days to have the opinion of a specialist,” Labit said. “It’s Antoine and the surgeon who will make the decision.
“Like everyone, we are worried. We were happy with the match [against Namibia] but last night was a difficult one for us.
“The World Cup is very long and there will always be injuries. That’s the difficulty in our sport. Today, for us, Antoine’s tournament is not yet over. We hope for good news in the next three days.”
While France await the results of those examinations, the 26-year-old will remain with the squad, although there is no chance of the talisman being available for their next fixture, against Italy on October 6.
The incident occurred in the 45th minute of France’s 96-0 victory over Namibia, with Welwitschias captain, Johan Deysel, eventually receiving a red card for the head-on-head tackle which led to Dupont’s departure.
Fabien Galthié, the France head coach, visited Dupont in hospital in Aix-en-Provence on Thursday night between 2.30am and 3.30am local time. RMC reported that Galthié had a look of resignation on his face as he left the hospital.
Galthié was earlier spotted communicating with the team doctor by text message during his post-match press conference, when he was asked by reporters if he regretted not taking Dupont off sooner.
“I knew one of you would jump in...what do you want me to tell you?” Galthié replied. “We can’t bring off 15 players since we can only bring on eight. We had planned to bring out our props and a second-row at half-time, and the other players in the 55th minute.
“The goal was for them to get some playing time and not stay inactive for a month. We can assume that we should have [brought him off], yes. But hey… the players and this team wanted to play.”
Should France defeat the Azzurri in their next match, they will top Pool A and set up a quarter-final against the runner-up from Pool B which contains Ireland, South Africa and Scotland. A loss to Italy without their totem, however, and their progression from the pool stages would not be assured.
Dupont injury turning into France’s ‘Beckham moment’
To this newspaper’s knowledge, no spoon-bending psychics have yet been wheeled out to lead the nation in mass prayer. But being on the ground as France digested the news of Antoine Dupont’s fractured cheekbone was to remind oneself of the reaction back home to David Beckham’s foot injury before the 2002 World Cup; panic, despair bordering on mass hysteria – and a rush to Google a new medical term.
Where Becks’ injury 20 years ago introduced us all to the ‘metatarsal’, French rugby fans will by now all be intimately acquainted with the ‘maxillo-zygomatic’ area of the face.
It had initially been suggested that Dupont’s injury might be to his jaw. But it was confirmed on Friday morning that the country’s captain and talisman, and this World Cup’s undoubted poster boy, had suffered a “maxillo-zygomatic facial fracture”. Basically a fracture of the cheekbone.
The country is now braced for two days of hand-wringing while the swelling dies down before a decision can be made on Dupont’s continued participation in this World Cup. It promises to be a bumpy ride if the newspaper, radio and television coverage is anything to go by.
‘Peur Bleue’ was the headline Midi Olympique went with on Friday, a play on a French expression meaning ‘scared to death’. It was the same in L’Equipe, who went with ‘Dupont, Pas La Joie’ accompanied by a picture of the France captain holding back tears as he trudged off the field with the team doctor. “The Blues are holding their breath,” added the sports daily.
How long they will be holding it for is the big question. After a night at the hospital in Aix-en-Provence – where according to RMC Sport France coach Fabien Galthié paid his player a visit between 2.30am and 3.30am local time, leaving with a “look of resignation” on his face – Dupont was due to be transferred to Toulouse on Friday for further monitoring.
There is a lot riding on the next medical bulletin. Dupont is one of the most popular players in world rugby. If he is deemed unfit to return, it would be a massive blow not just for France but for the tournament and the game as a whole.
Even Paul O’Connell, whose Ireland team may potentially face France in the quarter-finals, said ahead of their match against South Africa in Paris Saturday that he would prefer to see Dupont back for any meeting between the sides.
In the meantime, the recriminations will doubtless continue. Galthié, who chose to leave Dupont on the pitch for the second half of what was a relatively meaningless match, has already taken a fair amount of flak. More worrying was the vitriol aimed at Namibia’s unfortunate captain Johan Deysel, the man who injured Dupont. To describe Deysel as ‘public enemy No 1’ in France might be overstating things. But enough people called for him to be sent to the guillotine on Friday that he turned his social media channels to private and issued a public apology.
“I would like to extend my best wishes to Antoine Dupont,” he said in a statement. “Clearly, I meant no harm. Everything happened very quickly and I couldn’t get my head out of the way quick enough, resulting in a head clash. I know the rules and immediately knew that I was at fault.
“I spoke with coach Fabien Galthié immediately after the match and sent my best wishes and apologies to Antoine both personally and via the France team doctor. He is a great player and person and I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Deysel will face a disciplinary hearing in the coming days but his fate will be a footnote compared to that of Dupont. It remains to be seen whether France send out the equivalent of Uri Geller, the spoon-bending psychic who appeared on GMTV back in 2002 holding up a copy of The Sun’s ‘Beck Us Pray’ front page, urging viewers to put their hands on the television screen and send positive vibes through the ether. But we are in that sort of territory.