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Dupont or Gibson-Park at scrum-half in my fantasy team? There’s no contest | Ugo Monye
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Dupont or Gibson-Park at scrum-half in my fantasy team? There’s no contest | Ugo Monye

If there is a debate as to whether Antoine Dupont or Jamison Gibson-Park is the leading scrum-half in the world, I would ask myself which one I’d prefer to play alongside and in my opinion there is no contest. Dupont is the best player in the world. I have to go back to Dan Carter and the performances he produced during the 2005 British & Irish Lions tour for the last time I saw such a complete player.

Whether it is his passing, his immaculate box-kicking off both feet, the assists, the breaks, the tries, his jackalling … World Rugby has even had to change a law named after him. And he continues to do it in a season on the back of a World Cup and in which he has transferred to sevens.

I don’t think we appreciate just how difficult it is to switch between sevens and XVs during the season. It can take other players months to adapt to the different demands. Dupont has changed body shape, he’s lost weight to adapt to the increase in running that is required of him, the different fitness needs and he has done it mid-season, all while guiding Toulouse to another Champions Cup final.

Gibson-Park is an unbelievable player and incredibly influential for Leinster. Perhaps the best compliment I could pay to him is that he’s softened the blow of Johnny Sexton’s retirement. But there’s no doubt in my mind who is the best No 9 in the world.

I also believe Toulouse possess one of the best fly-halves on the planet in Romain Ntamack. He does not get the credit he deserves but he is an extraordinary player and someone who shows great maturity to let Dupont run the show. I’d say the same about Ross Byrne to an extent, but I’m so impressed by how Ntamack allows Dupont to steer the ship.

It’s about the distribution of responsibility and complementing rather than competing against one another. It’s about putting trust in Dupont’s decision-making, which isn’t too shabby.

The battle of the half-backs is just one of the mouthwatering narratives of the Champions Cup final.

We are set to witness the best two club teams in the world, who share nine titles between them. I would describe Toulouse as the Real Madrid of rugby and this is the final that the neutral wanted. It’s easy to see the contest through the lens of Ireland versus France because both Test sides take so much from Leinster and Toulouse and I’d back both to be more than competitive if they were to enter the Six Nations.

I go back to Toulouse’s semi-final win over Harlequins. Tyrone Green had a superb match for Quins and was asked about how he might fit in at a club like Toulouse. Quite simply, he said that he wouldn’t because they have France’s No 1 full-back, Scotland’s No 1 full-back and Italy’s No 1 full-back in their ranks.

In that match against Harlequins, Toulouse had a wobble in the third quarter, Leinster had theirs in the final 20 minutes against Northampton when the ghosts of the last two finals – both defeats by La Rochelle – began to surface. My hope is that both sides got the nerves out of the system in the last four because that can be the most anxious stage of a competition – the fear of not quite making the showpiece event.

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Jacques NienaberView image in fullscreen

Toulouse will be aware of Leinster’s baggage and will attempt to play on it. They do not have that same level of pressure on their shoulders. The only way Leinster can heal the scars and the wounds is by finally winning this competition again. They have not done so for six years and they have not won a trophy in each of the past two seasons. By the standards they set themselves that is a failure because Leinster are set up to a) produce quality players for Ireland and b) win the Champions Cup.

That is where the recruitment of Jacques Nienaber on to the coaching staff comes in for Leinster. We can talk about how Nienaber has tweaked Leinster’s defence, made them more aggressive but the mentality he can bring is just as significant. He is someone who knows how to win finals, having won the last two World Cups. It’s a simple message to the Leinster squad: “Look at me, follow, trust me and we get the job done”. When you’ve lost consecutive finals, as Leinster have done, then the head coach’s voice can lose a little impact and I think, whether it’s fair or not, that may have been the case with Leo Cullen. But the significance of having someone like Nienaber explaining to the squad how to win finals is huge.

On the pitch, his impact can be seen in how Leinster have developed a mentality to go out and beat the bully. We saw it against La Rochelle earlier in the competition, they went after Will Skelton. Who is the biggest lad in this team? Right, let’s get after him. We’re not going to allow ourselves to be bullied.

Toulouse have got some big boys in their team but Leinster will not be intimidated. They’ve lost a few finals of late and the common denominator has been physicality. But from what I’ve seen since Nienaber’s arrival, they want to get after the big boys. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if Dupont is going to be the most significant influence for Toulouse, then for Leinster it is Nienaber.

Source: theguardian.com