The much-anticipated 2024 Six Nations is on the horizon, with teams vying for the prestigious title of the best in Europe.
Ireland aims to defend the Grand Slam they clinched last year and recover from a disappointing World Cup. However, formidable competition is expected, notably from the 2022 champions, France.
The tournament will showcase some of the world’s finest rugby talents, but it will notably miss a standout figure in the 15-a-side game.
Antoine Dupont, the influential scrum-half and captain of France, often regarded as the world’s most impactful player presently, will be notably absent from this year’s spectacle. The reason behind his absence? Dupont has opted to forgo the Six Nations to focus on preparing for the rugby sevens tournament at the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris.
Dupont, who also plays for the French Top 14 side Toulouse, has openly expressed his aspiration to participate in one of the most significant sporting events in his home country. In December 2022, he described the opportunity as “highly motivating” and emphasized his keen interest in the event.
Reflecting on his decision, Dupont stated, “It’s incredible when you see the enthusiasm it can create. There is a desire from my side to put things in place for me to participate. It will be a discussion between the different coaching staff.”
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NIGEL OWENS DREAM SIX NATIONS XV:
Fullback: Israel Folau (Australia), replaced by Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
Owens said: “For me, it’s nip and tuck between Halfpenny and Folau, next to nothing to choose between them. Leigh is brilliant because under the high ball and with his kicking at goal under pressure. He may not always break the line when running but puts his body on the line in defence and is a top-notch match-winner.”
Winger: Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Owens said: “How can you fail to be impressed when watching Hogg play. He’s so exciting as he burst into that line and, of course, was named Six Nations player of the tournament.
“I know he’s a full-back for Scotland, but he is so quick and direct he could easily play on the wing. He reminds me a bit of Shane Williams with some of the things he does.
“When you see who is on the other wing in my team, you’ll see how they would work brilliantly in tandem.”
Outside-centre: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
Owens said: “Not only is he one of the greatest centres in the history of rugby union but he’s a fantastic man off the field as well. O’Driscoll has been a wonderful ambassador for the sport and a real leader. He always respected referees and set the right example for others to follow.
“A legend of the game who conducted himself superbly, on and off the pitch.”
Inside-centre: Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand), replaced by Owen Farrell (England)
Owens praised Farrell as a player on numerous occasions.
On one occasion he wrote: “I can only speak from my own experience of refereeing him and, when I did, he was an excellent captain to deal with.
“I have a huge amount of respect for him as a player and a person. He always knew where the line was with me.
“I would say to him that he could always come and talk to me as long as it was at the right time and in the right tone and he always did that.”
Winger: Shane Williams (Wales)
Owens said: “When people ask me who is the best player I have refereed it’s pretty much an impossible task to pick one because I’ve been lucky enough to take charge of so many greats.
“But if I’m pushed, I would pick Shane for what he achieved after coming from football at 17 or 18 years of age.
“He was in the mould of Gerald Davies in how he left defenders gasping for air as he beat them with those dazzling sidesteps. Nobody would fancy defending against a back three of Shane, Hogg and Folau, I can tell you that.”