Gaël Fickou’s switch to wing a nod to what France expect from Ireland

Fabien Galthié expects a kicking game come Saturday night’s showdown in Paris

In what is perhaps a nod to Ireland's kicking game, and especially the threat posed by the box-kicking of Conor Murray despite it being kept under wraps last week, Fabien Galthié and his French think tank have opted to switch Gaël Fickou from centre to wing in the absence of the hamstrung Teddy Thomas.

The French struggled under Wales' aerial bombardment last Saturday night in the Stade de France and the versatile Fickou should give them more solidity under the high ball. As was the case in the win over Wales and loss to Scotland, with Fickou on the left wing Arthur Vincent is recalled and re-united with Virimi Vakatawa in midfield.

As a result, Vincent Rattez switches from left to right wing, with the 23-year-old La Rochelle flyer Arthur Retière (four tries in five games for his club) set for a debut off the bench. Otherwise, with fullback Anthony Bouthier fulfilling his return to pay protocols, the matchday 23 is unchanged from last Saturday's 38-21 win in Paris.

“There are several elements that came into play, such as the essential collective experience at the international level. Gaël has already played on the wing and yesterday’s training convinced us,” said Galthié.

“Another element is the Irish team’s strategy with offensive kicking, with Johnny Sexton’s right foot across the pitch or the box kicks on our wing.”

This is probably the best coached French side since their last title success in 2010 and the most settled as well. Although relatively inexperienced, with an average age of 25 and 16 caps per player in the ‘23’, Galthié reasons that come the 2023 World Cup, which France will host, those figures should have increased to around 28 and 40-plus, the optimum profile for World Cup-winning squads.

The average age of Ireland’s matchday 23 on Saturday is over 27-and-a-half, while the average caps per player is 28.

FRANCE: Anthony Bouthier (Montpellier); Vincent Rattez (Montpellier), Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92), Arthur Vincent (Montpellier), Gaël Fickou (Stade Français); Romain Ntamack Toulouse), Antoine Dupont (Toulouse); Cyril Baille (Toulouse), Julien Marchand (Toulouse), Mohamed Haouas (Montpellier); Bernard Le Roux (Racing), Paul Willemse (Montpellier); François Cros (Toulouse), Charles Ollivon (Toulon), Grégory Alldritt (La Rochelle).

Replacements: Camille Chat (Racing), Jean-Baptiste Gros (Toulon), Demba Bamba (Lyon), Romain Taofifenua (Toulon), Dylan Crétin (Lyon), Baptiste Serin (Toulon), Arthur Retière (La Rochelle), Thomas Ramos (Toulouse).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times