Stade Toulousain: how the “red and black” are trying to fill the absence of Antoine Dupont

the essential
In the hierarchy of scrum-half, no one has yet really emerged to compensate for the absences of the captain of the XV of France, still suspended for three games. This Sunday evening against the LOU, it is the young Martin Page-Relo who will be in charge of the Toulouse game.

Not having Antoine Dupont during the doubles, Stade Toulousain got used to it. Put him to rest a little more often than in previous seasons too. So much so that the suspension of the now ex-best player in the world – he still remains on the podium! – is not binding when the Top 14 resumes its rights after the international parenthesis. “In any case, Antoine might not have played at LOU so for this one, it might not be a problem,” confirms Jean Bouilhou, the forwards coach.

What is more, however, is that the “red and black” staff relied on their scrum half for the reception of Perpignan and especially in a fortnight at Munster. “What is embarrassing is that he will be missing for the start of the European campaign because we really thought we needed him during this period.” But the first red card of his career collected against the Boks, accompanied by a four-week suspension, forced him to wait until the second continental day and the reception of Sale.

The departure of Bezy never really compensated

Anything but trivial in a competition where the sprint formula (4 games) limits the room for maneuver, the slightest departure from the road can, if not eliminate you – with 16 qualified out of 24, you almost have to do it on purpose… –, you seriously complicate the final stages. The absences of his totem, the Toulouse staff therefore tried to anticipate them even more than usual. Because he knows that they are harmful, and have been since the 2020/2021 season, as paradoxical as it may seem since the Stadium had then achieved the Top 14-European Cup double.

The departure from Clermont of Sébastien Bezy, a real N.1 bis, has never been fully compensated. While the position of hooker allows it, it seems impossible to be able to attract on the side of Ernest-Wallon a large caliber N.9 who would necessarily be condemned, in an ideal season, to remain in the shadow of Dupont during the big appointment. Betting on youth, versatile players or finding an N.2 capable of accepting to take the little space that remains: the right formula has not yet been found. Balès, Germain, Idjellidaine, Page-Relo and since this season Retière and Graou (injured during the first 8 days) have all had their chance but no one has really convinced since Bezy’s exile from Auvergne.

Page-Relo, things to prove

But optimism remains de rigueur in the staff. “Obviously, when we have one of the best players in the world who is absent, that changes things, continues the former third line. We did a lot of rotations at the start of the year, even when he was there, with Arthur Retière , Martin Page-Relo who have played and that gives us reason to have done so. They have the opportunity to show their talent during Antoine’s suspension. It is inevitably damaging but the players who will emerge will I hope , and I am sure of it, take up this challenge.”

“It is certain that the absence of Antoine Dupont frees up a place in my position. I will continue to do what I have been doing since the start of the season, give myself 100%, apply for the weekend and if I play, I would be the happiest”, slips Martin Page-Relo, not very talkative. But in Gerland this Sunday evening, alongside Romain Ntamack with whom he has been playing since the youth categories, it will above all be a question of being good at making Dupont forget. And incidentally prove to Xavier Garbajosa, the Lyon manager, that he was not mistaken in signing him for the next few years.

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