Antoine Dupont sets sights on "immense challenge" against Munster 2 months ago

Antoine Dupont sets sights on "immense challenge" against Munster

Well on course for his second successive World Rugby Player of the Year, the French star broke Ulster hearts on Saturday night.

Ulster knew the two men they had to watch like hawks were Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

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For 90% of the game, the Ulstermen stuck to their task and were feverish in their efforts to bottle up the Toulouse playmakers. And still...

And still, Ntamack and Dupont combined for two tries, one try assist, 10 carries, 125 metres gained, five defenders beaten and three line breaks. And, honest to God, Ulster did a decent job of containing Toulouse for long spells.

In the end, the red card for Tom O'Toole saw Ulster reduced to 14 men for the final 15 minutes. As they did at Stade Ernest Wallon, last weekend, Toulouse let the handbrake off and went for broke.

"This is bananas," declared former Ulster winger Andrew Trimble on the BT Sport coverage. "This is so French!"

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The final 10 minutes of the game also gave the Ulster players something new to contend with. Ntamack stepped out to inside centre and, with sub Baptiste Germain taking over at scrumhalf, Dupont played outhalf. The tactical tweak paid off as Dupont crashed over for a try that, when converted by Thomas Ramos, proved the match-winner.

Antoine Dupont on facing Munster next

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Asked about that decision to play him as No.10 for the closing stages, Antoine Dupont told reporters in Belfast:

"With six forwards and two backs on the bench, we know that these are things that can happen, especially since we had an injury early in the match with Matthis Lebel, who came out. In the backs, we are all versatile. You have to know how to play everywhere, and it didn't go too badly."

Next up for the five-time European champions are Munster, but at the Aviva Stadium and not Thomond Park after a venue clash due to a couple of Ed Sheeran concerts in Limerick.

Wherever the match takes place, Dupont is expecting a battle and a half. Toulouse beat Munster 40-33 in the Round of 16, last season, but their younger players - Josh Wycherley, Craig Casey & Co. - have more big-game experience under their belts and Simon Zebo back in their ranks.

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"At this level," said Dupont, "we know all our opponents will be tough to face. We know this from Munster as we faced them so one recently.

"It is still an immense challenge, which awaits us. Last year, we managed to win with great difficulty. They are a confident team, which saw off another good side, in Exeter."

Munster, like Ulster, will have the cards of both Dupont and Ntamack marked. As we saw at Kingspan Stadium, though, silencing the French half-backs is easier planned for than executed.