Former French head coach Philippe Saint-André says that Les Bleus scrum-half Antoine Dupont reminds him of Brian O'Driscoll in his ability to inspire team-mates. 

The Toulouse No 9 was named Player of the Tournament in last year's Six Nations and will marshal France against Ireland in Dublin this weekend off the back of masterminding a 40-point victory in Rome.

Former Ireland out-half Ronan O'Gara and current New Zealand scrum-half Aaron Smith this week both described the 24-year-old as the best player in the world, a conversation Ireland 141-cap centre O'Driscoll often featured in during his career.

Dupont is "very, very special" Saint-André told RTÉ 's Game On. 

"He made 70-80% of the tries last week. You had O’Driscoll a few years ago with Ireland, he was so great and all the players around him looked amazing.

"I think Antoine Dupont is exactly the same specimen."

Saint-André endured a miserable spell in charge of France between 2012 and 2015, never finishing higher than fourth in the Six Nations table and ending his reign with a 49-point defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup.

That lack of success persisted under his successors, Guy Noves and then Jacques Brunel, until Fabien Galthie last year delivered a first top-two European finish since the 2010 Grand Slam. 

Now head coach of Top 14 side Montpellier, who have three players in this year's squad, Saint-André believes that France's renaissance is down to the prioritisation of domestic talent in the Top 14 and a greater emphasis on the importance of the national team.

"When I was the French coach in 2015 and we lost against New Zealand in the quarter-final, we said 'it's impossible to carry on like this and be at war between the French federation and the clubs'.

"The players were playing each week for their club and they were coming to the national team just five days before, and going back in between games.

"Now they are together a lot. They don't play as much with their clubs or in pre-season.

"The structure and organisation of French rugby changed completely over the last five years.

"Since the last three or four years, each club in the Top 14 needs to pick 16 French (eligible) players in the squad each week.

"So all of the clubs have improved their young players a lot. Now we have players like Dupont, (Romain) Ntamack, that play each week for their club and the country.

"I think that’s why the French team are back."

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Saint-André also points to back-to-back U20 World Cup triumphs in 2018 and '19 as a key factor in rebuilding France's self-belief.

"The team is balanced and well coached by Fabien Galthie and all his staff," he said.

"We have talent on the wing, in the centre. The difference in this team is that the young players are the stars of the team.

"Dupont has won a French league with Toulouse already. The French team have won the last two U20 World Cups.

"They have the winning habit and I think this makes a huge difference.

"This makes a huge difference between the older generation that was struggling for 10 years and the French team was losing all the time.

"The new generation are scared of nothing. They are very professional. They work hard and they believe in themselves."

Teddy Thomas of France scores a try against Italy

France are hot favourites to win a first Six Nations crown in 11 years after England's shock defeat to Scotland.  

Saint-André thought Ireland were "very impressive" against Wales given they played with a man less for over an hour but has seen a ruthlessness in France over the last year that bodes badly for the hosts.  

"The French team will know it will be tough and they’ll need to very disciplined," he said. "They will be patient but if Ireland leave a little bit of space France will take it.

"When they go forward, they have great skill, they can offload and it’s difficult to stop them.

"They kick a lot, they don't take many risks in their 30 metres but the difference is that after that they have so much talent and they are so quick.

"Each turnover, they punish the other team. In November they scored 90, 95% of their opportunities.

"That’s the difference between a good team and a great team."

Follow Ireland v France (kick-off 3pm) on Sunday via our live blog on and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head, Monday at 8pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.

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