If Allan Dell is feeling any trepidation about the prospect of a swift rematch against the massive 24-and-a-half-stone French prop Uini Atonio, then it doesn’t show.
The 25-year-old loosehead was reflecting on a first international season in which he featured in the three autumn Tests and all five Six Nations matches, and in particular that showdown with a man at least six stones heavier than him at the Stade de France last month.
“Yeah, I might see him again next weekend.” said Dell, pictured, before breaking into a boisterous laugh. If Atonio has recovered from that head knock/”sore back” which saw him controversially depart the France-Wales game at the weekend amid farcical scenes, he could be packing down against Dell again when his club La Rochelle come calling in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup next Friday night.
The jovial Dell admits that brutal set-piece onslaught by the French in their 22-16 win over the Scots on the second weekend of the competition had proved a real eye-opener.
“Against Ireland in the first weekend the first two scrums were chaos, too, but towards the end we started holding our own and by the last scrum had the upper hand on them,” reflected the South Africa-born prop. “With France we knew they would target our scrum, the monsters that they are.
“First scrum, we did quite well and held them but after that they tried to play games. They’re big men but they’re also quite smart. If you get your right set up and get them on the hit, they’re going to drop it and wait to get the scrum on their terms. I think as a youngster you learn from that and try to manipulate things yourself to gain an advantage. ”
After starting the first two Six Nations games, Dell was replaced by Glasgow’s Gordon Reid for the final three but the Edinburgh man still had a valuable role to play off the bench as he took his caps tally to eight in quick time.
Dell is delighted with his rookie Test season but admitted to a sense of deflation that Scotland’s efforts were only rewarded with fourth place.
“Disappointing, with the other results,” he agreed. “We did well to win three home games, we were clinical and put out good statements at home. Away from home there are lots of things for us to learn us a young group.
“Just the log position, we’re a bit upset about that. It would have been good to finish second but one bad result made sure that didn’t happen.”
Asked what he had learned the most from his baptism of fire at the top level of the game, Dell replied: “Where do you start? It’s quicker, more physical, less forgiving. You make a mistake and you pay for it.
“I’ve learnt a lot set-piece wise, different combinations and trying to solve problems on the field. You have to do that a lot quicker than in club rugby. ”
Dell was deputising for experienced clubmate, Al Dickinson, and knew he was under scrutiny as the Scots scrum faced some rocky times. He added: “It’s part of the game, isn’t it? Coming into a new system as a young buck you are always going to be targeted. I know on a few occasions I didn’t help myself with a few mistakes I made through over-eagerness and inexperience. But I feel we fixed a lot of things by the end of the tournament. I’m fairly happy with my first season as an international.”
Dell is now fully focused on getting an Edinburgh season where ups have been far outweighed by downs so far back on track, starting with this Friday’s trip to Wales to face Scarlets in the Guinness Pro12.
“Results haven’t gone our way, through luck and our own inconsistency and poor performances,” said the forward.
“We’ve shown we can play quality rugby. Inconsistency has been our downfall. We don’t want to finish down the bottom, pride is the biggest thing.
“We’ve got five league games left, obviously we can’t make the play-offs but there is a lot of pride to play for.
“Then there is the excitement of La Rochelle in the Challenge Cup. There are still big things to play for and achieve as a team.”