The opportunity was too good to pass up. As he received the double distinction of Best Top 14 Player (with his club Stade Toulousain) and Best French International Player at the Nuit du Rugby awards on Monday, Antoine Dupont could not avoid being asked about his forthcoming commitment with the France sevens team as he bids to compete in the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Having come up short as France’s leader at Rugby World Cup 2023, Dupont is desperate to be involved in the next big rugby global event on home soil and will look to use the new HSBC SVNS Series to adapt to the shorter, fast-paced format of the game.
"We've been trying for several months, with the club, the federation and France Sevens, to give me the opportunity and the resources to try and take part in these Olympic Games. I now hope to perform well and apply (make selection),” he explained.
"We're going to have to make some adjustments. I'm not going to be able to play every match, every weekend, until the end of the season. I'm going to have to make sacrifices to spend time with this team and get used to this special game and discipline.”
A not-so-easy transition
The transition from 15s to sevens will not be easy. Bryan Habana tried and failed to make the Blitzboks team for Rio 2016, and while All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill got to go to Rio, he did not have as big an impact as many anticipated.
Even Dupont, arguably the biggest box-office star in rugby right now, has his doubts: "When I see the effort that this discipline requires, it's going to take me some time to adapt, that's for sure," he admitted.
His coach at Stade Toulousain, Ugo Mola, doesn't seem particularly worried: "It seems that if he plays with the qualities he has, he could be a valuable addition to this competition," he said.
"We all want Antoine Dupont to win trophies, but the World Cup has slipped under his nose. Let's hope he wins a few with his club and maybe even one with the French Sevens team.”
A fantastic showcase
France automatically qualified for the Paris Games as hosts but they would have qualified as of right anyhow after a fourth-place finish in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 standings.
It was their best finish to date on the Series and reflects the growing strength of the team. Dupont knows he will only make the final cut on merit.
"Antoine has a very rugby attitude, he doesn't want to be dropped in. He knows that, in a rugby team, you earn your place," agrees Florian Grill, President of the Fédération Française de Rugby.
"If he makes it to the Games – and he has said he wants to – he'll be a superb headliner, even if we'll have to do without him for the Six Nations tournament. But, honestly, what a great image for rugby sevens and for the country! He'll be an important standard-bearer."
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has really fired Dupont’s imagination.
"For any sports fan, the Olympics are still mythical. Hosting this event in France will be an incredible celebration, and to be in with a chance of winning an Olympic medal is a highly motivating challenge,” he said.
To realise his goal, Dupont has had to adapt his schedule, but insists he will still feature for Stade Toulousain should they make the Top 14 play-offs.
“I still have ambitions in 15s. I don't want to retire from the sport just yet, don't worry,” he said.
"I'll be playing in the play-offs with Stade Toulousain, and I hope to be able to lift the Brennus Shield again. I can spend time with sevens but also keep my objectives with Stade Toulousain."