Scotland v France: Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack pose world-class threat says coach with first-hand knowledge

Having coached Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack at Toulouse, AB Zondagh is unlikely to be surprised by anything the extravagantly gifted pair produce at Murrayfield on Saturday. Stopping them is a different matter, however.

Zondagh, the Scotland assistant coach, rates the half-backs as “world class”, orchestrators of a France team which sits atop the Six Nations standings after two rounds of fixtures.

Every major bookmaker has them as odds-on to win the championship but the highly fancied French have come a cropper against Scotland in each of the last two seasons when they looked well placed to end what is now a 12-year wait for the title.

Zondagh wasn’t around then and cautions against placing too much credence on previous results against Fabien Galthie’s side.

“I don’t think we can read too much into the past,” he said. “France have evolved as a team and we’ve changed ourselves as a team. It’s a new task in hand and it’s going to be a different game. We just have to be prepared for the challenge.

“France are a very good team – they’ve beaten New Zealand, Ireland and Italy. They could be considered the best team at the moment. So it’s going to be a tough challenge. We’re going to have to pitch up and concentrate for 80 minutes. But we’re preparing to face up to the challenge although it will be a tough game I’m sure.”

Zondagh swapped the south of France for Edinburgh last summer, taking on the role of Scotland assistant coach with a special focus on pepping up the attack. His work at Toulouse had caught the eye of Gregor Townsend and the national boss moved swiftly to appoint him as a replacement for Mike Blair when the latter quit the national set-up to take over at Edinburgh.

Zondagh made his name in South African rugby before decamping to Europe and his final season as Toulouse assistant saw them win a French Top 14 and Heineken Champions Cup double, with scrum-half Dupont and stand-off Ntamack pulling the strings.

France's half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have helped put Les Bleus in pole position to win this season's Six Nations. Picture: Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock

“I don't know if it is a good thing or a bad thing to know what threats they bring but their quality is obvious and it is something we are going to have to deal with and we will have to see what happens with both of them,” said Zondagh as he looked forward to Saturday’s Murrayfield encounter.

“The way they perform during games speaks for itself. They are world class. Antoine is not nominated for the best player in the world for no reason. I won't be speaking to them this week, we don't speak that much.”

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The pair’s presence was not enough to stop Scotland beating France in 2020 and 2021 but Zondagh knows there is quality sprinkled throughout Galthie’s team and cautioned against focusing too much on Dupont and Ntamack.

Scotland assistant Coach AB Zondagh has warned that France possess threats throughout their team. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“France is a team that plays as a team,” said the South African. “They don't rely on just one or two individuals. Dupont can break and open up a game and add seven points here and there but they are a quality side across the board. It is not just individuals we have to look out for.

“They’ve obviously been playing together for a long time and they understand each other - they click well on the field. But there’s a lot of quality in that French team. When a guy like Matthieu Jalibert is on the field he brings a different skill set and different strengths.

“But they definitely have a good link as a nine and ten on the field. They are a dangerous pair and they’re players that we’ll watch - but not more or less than we will watch every single other player in the team.”

The coach thinks hard graft is a trait that can often be overlooked when assessing gifted players like Dupont and Ntamack, and he includes Finn Russell when he talks of those who are dedicated to their trade.

Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont celebrate Toulouse's Heineken Champions Cup final win over La Rochelle last season. Picture: Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock

“Ntmack, Dupont, Finn Russell all work very hard at their craft. That is the reason why they are as good as they are. They put in the hours and spend time honing their skills. It is not fair to compare players because each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Finn Russell is an amazing player with many good qualities and we are sure to see a lot of that on the weekend.”

France opened their Six Nations campaign with wins over Italy and Ireland while Scotland stuttered to a 20-17 defeat in Wales in round two after beating England by the same scoreline in their opener.

Apart from a superb try from Darcy Graham, Scotland struggled to ignite their attack in Cardiff but Zondagh believes they can improve that side of their game at Murrayfield on Saturday.

“It was a disappointing result for us,” he said. “We went down there really believing that we could win. The margins were really fine. We had a good hard look at ourselves, we’ve learned from that and moved on. We’re pushing on to the France game now and focusing all our energies onto that.

“The boys are working really hard to get into good positions and create opportunities. Again there’s fine margins, the ball going to hand and a try being scored or a ball being turned over. The boys did work hard in the Wales game. Some things just didn’t go our way but we know we will improve going into this France game.

“France are a very dynamic team and they can target certain areas of the game for certain opposition. The breakdown is a massively important area for the game and we’ll need to be squeaky clean in terms of our support, linking and looking after the ball. We’ll have to be really sharp. But we know what their threats are. We’ll be prepared.”

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