Gloucester Rugby: Dario Christolini seals move home with Zebre
DARIO Chistolini will join Italian Pro12 franchise Zebre next season.
Gloucester's out-of-contract tighthead prop will return to Italy when his current Kingsholm deal expires in the summer.
Bryan Redpath recruited the South Africa-born Italy A cap from Petrarca Padova for the 2011/12 campaign, to offset the loss of Paul Doran-Jones to Northampton.
But now the 24-year-old will return to Italy – though he will step into the recently-formed Celtic League club Zebre rather than head back to the Italian domestic premiership.
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Chistolini's departure leaves Nigel Davies with a clear hole to fill at tighthead, despite Academy man Tom Heard's progress, and plans to convert Yann Thomas from a loosehead into a number three.
Gloucester are very pleased with their frontline tightheads Rupert Harden and Shaun Knight, and envisage that pair's healthy battle only intensifying next term.
Taunton-born Heard has been on loan at Cinderford this season, Gloucester boss Davies keen for the 19-year-old to continue his development through regular rugby.
Powerful loosehead Thomas has impressed at every outing for the Cherry and Whites, but the accomplished duo of Nick Wood and Dan Murphy continue to dominate the number one berth.
Gloucester's coaches have identified plenty of tighthead traits in Thomas' body shape and scrummaging style, and will slowly aim to develop him into that role.
The Bristol-born 22-year-old showed up well at tighthead coming off the bench in Thursday's 41-31 Biarritz loss at Kingsholm in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final.
But the transition from loosehead to tight is the most complicated and difficult of all positional switches in rugby.
While a loosehead aims to dig underneath the tighthead and drive him high, so the tighthead battles to pin his corresponding prop, and turn him under to nullify that skyward drive.
That's just the very basics of the most technical area of the sport.
And Gloucester's scrummaging coach Tony Windo will spend time with Thomas on the theory and practice required to make the shift.
Should Thomas gain enough potency at tighthead to switch between either propping role, he will prove an invaluable asset to the Cherry and Whites.
But it must be said that all too few looseheads make this change successful in the long term.
So rugby director Davies knows it would far too much to ask Thomas to fill the third-choice tighthead role next term, as well as operating as an experienced loosehead.
To that end the search for a new number three has been under way for some time now.
But the calibre of the final recruit will depend entirely on the funds available as Davies pieces together the jigsaw of his squad and edges ever closer towards the salary cap.