France’s tighthead concerns are set to be eased ahead of the 2024 Six Nations with Uini Atonio having a change of heart.
The prop is 33 and announced following the Rugby World Cup disappointment that he would be retiring from internationals.
In what is a pretty young squad, Atonio was initially just one of two players – alongside Romain Taofifenua – to call it a day after the 2023 global tournament.
Fabien Galthie gets his wish
That has now changed, according to French publication L’Equipe, who are reporting that head coach Fabien Galthie has convinced the New Zealand-born tighthead to reverse his decision.
He is set to feature for France in the upcoming Six Nations, although his Test future after that tournament is undecided.
Atonio has become a vital part of Les Bleus’ squad over the last few years, but particularly during Galthie’s reign.
The La Rochelle star has developed into one of the best tightheads in the world, with him both a top-class scrummager and a big presence in the loose.
France’s set-piece suffered in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to South Africa after he went off, which is perhaps why the head coach is desperate to bring him back.
Tighthead has been the only real position in which the Frenchmen have lacked depth, and having Atonio available for the Six Nations gives them an opportunity to develop those behind him in the pecking order.
Dorian Aldegheri is a reliable scrummager but is perhaps not the top-class talent they will want to be first choice going forward.
Sipili Falatea was the preferred back-up to Atonio in the Six Nations but he slipped behind Aldegheri in the pecking order at the World Cup and there have been concerns about his scrummaging.
Falatea is improving in that area but it is something Galthie and his fellow coaches will hope to perfect over the next four-year cycle.
Scrummaging has also long been a problem for the exceedingly talented Demba Bamba, something which has held him back at the highest level.
If Bamba can prove himself in that facet of the game then he could be France’s answer at tighthead, given his effectiveness in the loose.