As with all great players in any sport, time seems to stand still when Romain Ntamack is in possession of the ball.
Amidst the chaos around him, Ntamack finds a composure that belies his age.
Take, for example, the 21st minute of Toulouse’s dramatic win over Munster last weekend. As the French increased the pressure in the Munster half, the Reds flew off the defensive line to cripple Toulouse.
Ntamack finds himself in a tiny bag, and with seemingly nothing on, he brilliantly weaves his magic while a step and twist of his hips leaves Chris Farrell tied in knots and buckled at the knees.
The Munster center collapses to the ground without being able to even put a finger on Ntamack, who then throws a bold no-look offload for his right-man Antoine Dupont.
In the end, the train collapses, but it was another reminder that Ntamack’s all-court game allows him to see and ultimately do things that other players just can’t.
Of course, playing alongside the best player in the world means Dupont grabs most of the headlines, but it would be foolish ever to overlook Ntamack’s precocious talent.
Although Ntamack just turned 23 earlier this month, his medal collection is already the envy of most players.
Winning an U-20 Six Nations Tournament and an U-20 World Cup with France in 2018 laid the groundwork and in the few years since, Ntamack has won two top-14 titles and a Heineken Champions Cup while he earlier this year played a pivotal role in Les Bleus’ Grand Slam success.
Next year’s World Cup on home soil is imminent but before that, Toulouse have their sights set on defending both their domestic and European crowns in what will make for a big season in the coming weeks.
To put into context what Ntamack has achieved, it is worth remembering that he is younger (if only a few weeks) than Harry Byrne, who not long ago was heir to Johnny Sexton in Leinster and Ireland was traded. Byrne’s progress has stalled since then and he finds himself on the outside looking at both sides.
Ntamack, crowned 28 times by France, was also born in the same year as Munster natives Ben Healy and Jake Flannery.
The point is that the Toulouse native was in the fast lane because he is a generational talent who is already delivering moments of pure class at the highest level.
Ireland learned this the hard way after just a minute of their defeat in Paris last February, when Ntamack and Dupont together smashed the defense in the blink of an eye.
Dupont fired a pass to his outside half and then launched on a clever support line. Meanwhile, Ntamack attacked the line and eliminated four Irish defenders with an exquisite back inside offload for Dupont, who scored a scintillating try.
With many of the same faces set to attend Saturday’s Champions Cup semi-finals at the Aviva Stadium, Leinster have been warned of the threat posed by this majestic half-back duo.
However, for all the talents of Dupont and Ntamack, it’s fair to say that, much like Toulouse in general, they haven’t been at their best since France won the Grand Slam.
Whether that’s due to some kind of hangover is unclear, but Toulouse and his key men are big game players capable of turning him on – there’s no doubt about that.
No longer known only as the child of the famous father, Ntamack is now forging his own path and following in the footsteps of his legendary father Émile.
The strong family genes don’t stop there, however, as Romain’s younger brother Théo, 19, is a talented back man who played for France U-20 in this year’s Six Nations and he is also part of the Toulouse team.
Théo’s career trajectory suggests it won’t be long before he too blazes a trail on the professional stage, but for now at least Romain is leading the way.
Sexton missed the Six Nations game in Paris and his return to Ntamack and company could be crucial in this weekend’s encounter.
Such is Ntamack’s poise and class that calling his match with Sexton “Master vs. Apprentice” would do him no favors.
However, Sexton will have a huge responsibility to use all his experience to lead Leinster to the final.
But as Ntamack has shown time and time again, including last weekend when he kept his cool in a dramatic penalty shoot-out, he is a man for big occasions.
It’s up to the Leinster defense to choke him out and ensure Ntamack doesn’t have time on the ball to make his mark.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/romain-ntamack-the-man-with-the-golden-touch-41641248.html Romain Ntamack – The man with the golden hands