France bring Fickou back for Ireland clash

French coach Philippe Saint-Andre has recalled teenager Gael Fickou as one of four changes for the last-chance Six Nations clash with Ireland.

Saint-Andre was forced to act after facing withering criticism for France’s tactics in their narrow 19-17 victory over Scotland last Saturday.

Nineteen-year-old Toulouse centre Fickou scored the dramatic late try that beat England and Saint Andre will need his aggressive talent in the battle for a victory on Saturday while the Six Nations crown is still mathematically open.

Fickou is considered one of the most dangerous players of his generation, but he has generally been used as a replacement by Saint Andre.

“He is in form, he is fast,” said Saint Andre. “We need to see his talent on show from the start.”

Fickou will team up with Mathieu Bastareaud in the charge for points after France managed only a close 19-17 victory over Scotland last weekend.

Saint Andre has also brought back Remi Tales, 29, in place of Jules Plisson to reinforce France’s defence.

Dimitri Szarzewski comes back as hooker in place of Brice Mach and Louis Picamoles also returns after he was dropped against Scotland for an indifferent display against Wales.

Szarzewski was injured for the Scotland game in Edinburgh and his return is no surprise as Saint-Andre looks to inject some power back into his team.

Ireland, England and France are level on points but Ireland and England have a far superior points scored record.

A welter of criticism fell on Saint-Andre and his players for the way they ground out the narrow win over Scotland.

“There is frustration over the last match,” the coach acknowledged. “You have to want the ball and to advance.”

But Saint-Andre said the critics should halt their attacks on the players.

“What happens on the outside is not important. If I have to be the scapegoat, then no problem. But let the players do their work,” he said.

Several of the players have said the attacks by former coaches and ex-players are unfair.

But Maxime Medard is among squad members who acknowledge that not all is going smoothly.

“People’s expectations were high because they felt that there was quality in this team,” said the 27-year-old, who can play at both wing and full back.

“But we have not been able to live up to that billing. That must annoy a lot of people and it has been frustrating for us as well.

“On Saturday in front of our public and our families and against the best team in the tournament there will be a huge amount of pressure.

“We know that if we lose a lot of people will hammer us. Therefore we are really eager to do something good,” Medard said.

French team to play Ireland in the Six Nations tournament in Paris on Saturday:

France

Brice Dulin; Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Gael Fickou, Maxime Medard; Remi Tales, Maxime Machenaud; Damien Chouly, Alexandre Lapandry, Louis Picamoles; Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (capt); Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo

Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Rabah Slimani, Alexandre Flanquart, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Wenceslas Lauret, Jean-Marc Doussain, Maxime Mermoz

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