Fickou handed France start

  • Last Updated: March 13 2014, 12:46 GMT

France have included centre Gael Fickou in one of four changes to their starting XV for Saturday's clash with Ireland on the final weekend of the RBS 6 Nations.

Fickou starts a game in this season's championship for the first time and he will pair up with Mathieu Bastareaud in midfield as France look to combat the threat posed by Ireland playmaker Brian O'Driscoll, who makes his 141st and final international appearance.

Maxime Mermoz drops to the bench to accommodate that change, with Jules Plisson, Brice Mach and Sebastien Vahaamahina also losing their starting roles as Remi Tales, Dimitri Szarzewski and Louis Picamoles coming in.

France head into the match level on points with England and Ireland at the top of the standings, but with a vastly inferior points difference and the knowledge they only scraped a narrow and unconvincing win over Scotland last time out.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre believes 19-year-old Stade Toulouse player Fickou can justify his inclusion for the Stade de France tussle.

"He is in form, he has speed," Saint-Andre said, according to sports.fr. "We need to see his talent expressed from the start with a true challenge alongside Mathieu Bastaraud and against two great Ireland centres (O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy). We have confidence in him.

"It's a logical step with relation to the squad and the work he has done. Attacking-wise, he can bring us very interesting solutions because of his speed, his youth and his audacity."

Fickou is hardly an unknown quantity. He scored France's winning try against England earlier in the championship after coming off the bench, and Saint-Andre will be looking for more magic from the teenager

Fly-half Plisson is, like Mach, dropped from the match 23.

Plisson makes way for Tales, but Saint-Andre said: "This isn't a punishment for Jules, but more of a strategic decision for the Ireland match."

As anticipated, hooker Szarzewski and back-rower Picamoles return to the pack, the latter at flanker rather than in his usual number eight role as Damien Chouly keeps his place.

France team to play Ireland: Dulin (Castres), Huget (Toulouse), Bastareaud (Toulon), Fickou (Toulouse), Medard (Toulouse), Tales (Castres), Machenaud (Racing Metro); Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), Szarzewski (Racing Metro), Mas (Montpellier), Pape (Stade Francais), Maestri (Toulouse), Picamoles (Toulouse), Lapandry (Clermont Auvergne), Chouly (Clermont Auvergne).

Replacements: Guirado (Perpignan), Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), Slimani (Stade Francais), Flanquart (Stade Francais), Vahaamahina (Perpignan), Lauret (Racing Metro), Doussain (Toulouse), Mermoz (Toulon).


New Sky Bet customers: Free matched bet up to £30