French prop Uini Atonio will be available for the Guinness Six Nations 2024 following the cancellation of his international pension plans. The 33-year-old announced his decision to retire from Test rugby along with second-row Romain Taofenua following their Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to eventual champions South Africa.
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But reports say a conversation with head coach Fabien Galthie has prompted a rethink, with Atonio set to add to his 57 caps in the new year. Atonio established himself as a vital cog in Galthie’s team, starting all five matches as France raced towards the 2022 Six Nations Grand Slam.
He started four matches at the World Cup, including the quarter-final defeat, but it remains to be seen whether he will continue to maintain favoritism over Dorian Aldegheri and Sipili Falatea. The tighthead returned to action as a substitute in La Rochelle’s 18-15 win over Bayona in the top 14 last weekend.
France kick off their Guinness Six Nations campaign with a mouth-watering showdown against title holders Ireland in Marseille, where the Stade de France is undergoing a revamp ahead of the 2024 Olympics. They will then travel to Scotland for the second round before facing Italy at home in Lille. Next up is a trip to Wales in round four before Galthie’s side raise the curtain on the 2024 Championship by hosting England in Lyon.
State of The Six Nations: France
French fans must have had a feeling of déjà vu after South Africa won the semi-final and then final of the World Cup by one point, seeing their own hopes of global glory dashed by the slimmest of margins. Les Bleus went into their home World Cup with huge expectations and after an opening win over the All Blacks they were beaten 29-28 by the Springboks in an epic quarter-final.
With a young team that has already won a Grand Slam title, this French team will be able to take the lead once they get over the disappointment of failure.
And after the first match of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations against Ireland in Marseille, they will have to hit the ground running.
World Cup performance
Despite a nervy start against New Zealand (missing a try after just two minutes), France bounced back to hand the All Blacks their first ever group stage defeat, defeating them 27–13 at the Stade de France.
This was followed by victories over Uruguay (27–12) and Namibia (96–0). The record victory was marred by a facial fracture suffered by captain Antoine Dupont.
He missed the 60-7 win over Italy, which finished top of the group and set up a quarter-final match with South Africa.
The clash will go down as one of the greatest games in World Cup history: the first 40 minutes were simply sensational as each team scored three tries.
France led 22-19 at half-time but Eben Etzebeth’s try eventually helped South Africa take a one-point lead despite two tries from Cyril Bail and another from Les Bleus’ outstanding Piato Mauwaka.
With six tries in four games, Damian Penaud continued the run of form that has seen him finish as top scorer in each of the last two Guinness Six Nations. Dupont was also as good as ever in the games he involved in, with Mathieu Jalibert stepping up in the absence of the injured Romain Ntamack.
However, perhaps the most impressive player of all was Mauwaka, who took over as the starting man after Julien Marchand forced off with injury 12 minutes into the match. Dynamic on the pitch and confident from set-pieces, his performance against South Africa in the quarter-finals was exceptional.
Following the defeat to South Africa, it confirmed that Uini Atonio and Romain Taofifenua had played their final games for Les Blais.
The former, who scored his first Test try in Super Saturday against Wales earlier this year, will have huge shoes to fill, both literally and figuratively. Rugby fans can book Guinness Six Nations Tickets on our website at exclusively discounted prices.
Apart from these two, this is a very young team so there is no reason to assume that anyone else will left out of the calculation, although there is a decision to made in place of Dupont, who is keen to play sevens for France at the Paris Olympics. and may away to get comfortable with a different format. Ntamack is also still out with a knee injury that forced him out of the tournament.
While most of the World Cup squad will be back, Fabien Galthier will be bringing in a few new faces.
Center Emilien Gayeton made his World Cup warm-up debut before missing out on the finals, but if he maintains the form that saw him finish last season as top scorer in the top 14, he has every chance of returning to contention.
In terms of overall recruits, Toulouse second row Emmanuel Meafu is now eligible after completing his five-year stay at the club and looks set to be a worthy replacement for Taofifenua.
And if Dupont is unavailable, there are a couple of young players in the scrum-half who will be keen to get a chance. Noland Le Garrec was an unused substitute against Italy in the 2023 championship and has made a great start to the season for Racing 92.
Baptiste Jonod, meanwhile, was a standout player in the France Under-20 team that won the World Cup title in South Africa in the summer and has already established himself as a first-team player at Clermont.
Others in the squad who could soon be in contention include second row Posolo Tuilagi and flanker Lenny Nouchi, while Racing 92 hotshot Thomas Laclayat earned his first cap in the World Cup warm-up and could be among the contenders to replace Atonio.
Guinness Six Nations prospects
Having won nine out of ten matches in the Guinness Six Nations over the past two years, France will enter 2024 with ambitions of winning the title again.
We’ll get a good idea of how strong their task is very quickly when they host the reigning All-Ireland champions in Marseille on the first Friday night.
This is a venue that has an electric atmosphere and the first game should be exciting. The trip to Edinburgh in the second round would not be easy, with Scotland pressing France as hard as anyone in the Galtier era.
Matchday three will see the team return to France, this time taking on Lille against Italy before heading to the Principality Stadium where Les Blais will seek a third successive win in Cardiff.
If all goes to plan, facing England on the final day will bring back happy memories for France, which won the Grand Slam two years ago, albeit in Paris rather than Lyon, where this year’s Super Saturday will held.
Guinness Six Nations 2024 fixtures
- February 2: France v Ireland, Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, Kick-off 9pm (local time)
- February 10: Scotland v France, Scottish Gas Murrayfield, Kick-off 2:15pm
- February 25: France v Italy, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, Kick-off 4pm (local time)
- March 10: Wales v France, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 3pm
- March 16: France v England, Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon, Kick-off 9pm (local time)
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