When Gael Fickou cut inside and broke England's resolve in the Six Nations, France lauded a new sporting hero, but just 10 months later he is discarded from the squad. So who's to blame? Guy Noves, that's who...
When you have a moment, take a look at the try in the video below and then ask yourself how it is Gael Fickou hasn’t made the French squad for their trio of autumn Tests.
Instead, when Philippe Saint-Andre announced his 30-man squad on Sunday for the autumn Tests against Fiji, Australia and Argentina, alongside Wesley Fofana and Maxime Mermoz he selected the hulking pair of Mathieu Bastareaud and Remi Lamerat. Fine players though those two are, they’re not in the same footballing class as Fickou.
But it’s not Saint-Andre who deserves opprobrium for his omission of Fickou, it’s Guy Noves for the manner in which he has handled the 20-year-old threequarter this season. Frankly, there’s a strong case for saying that the Toulouse coach is responsible for Fickou’s axing from the national squad. Such a move by Saint-Andre would have been unthinkable at the start of the year. Remember the stunning try Fickou scored for France four minutes from time in their opening Six Nations encounter? The English won’t forget it in a hurry. It cost them not just the match but, ultimately, their first Grand Slam in 11 years.
Eight months on and even the most ardent English supporter would be hard-pressed not to feel for Fickou, and what’s become of him under Noves this season. His plight mirrors that of Toulouse, a team seemingly in terminal decline. Last season they failed to make the semi-finals of the Top 14 for the first time in 21 years and this campaign they’ve lost their last four games on the bounce – their worst run of results for nearly forty years.
Noves is trying to blame the results on injuries – and, yes, they’ve had their problems at prop and No 8 – but does that explain Saturday’s amateurish display against Racing when they lost five of their own line-out ball and knocked on a dozen times? Fickou was one of the guilty dozen, spilling a pass with the Racing try-line at his mercy. The camera got a close up of his face in the aftermath. It was the look of a man stripped of self-confidence and belief.
But who can blame him, the way he’s been treated these last few weeks? A month ago Fickou scored that try against Castres to set Toulouse on the road to a 35-6 win over Castres, their one decent display of the season so far. The following Monday Fickou was the only Toulouse back to feature in Midi Olympique’s XV of the Week.
So what did Noves do? He relegated Fickou to the bench the next week for the trip to La Rochelle. He was back in the starting XV for the Brive match but shunted out to the left wing where he’s never before started for Toulouse.
What was Noves playing at? It’s almost as if he was slapping Fickou down, reminding him that no matter how good a player he is, it’s he – Monsieur Noves – who decides when and where he plays. Talk about battering a young player’s self-belief. Consequently in the space of a month Fickou has gone from try-scorer to ball-dropper and French fans run the risk of one of their prime strike weapons missing the World Cup unless he rediscovers his joie de vivre in the coming months.
That’s going to be hard given Toulouse’s travails. If he’s not careful Fickou could see his Test career go the same way as those of Clement Poitrenaud, Maxime Medard and Lionel Beauxis, a trio of talented threequarters whose adventure and enterprise were remorselessly coached out of them by Noves. Only one Toulouse back made PSA’s squad for November, and that’s Yoann Huget, though the winger has yet to score a try in five outings this season.
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Beauxis escaped Toulouse in the summer by moving to Bordeaux where he’s enjoying something of a regeneration. A substitute in Saturday’s away win at La Rochelle, the 28-year-old fly-half conjured up a lovely little cameo when he appeared in the second half, what Midi Olympique described as a “brillant festival”. How ironic that Beauxis has helped lift Bordeaux into fourth spot, while Toulouse languish in ninth.
In short, if Toulouse don’t come to their senses and part company with the coaching staff that are dragging them towards the relegation zone, then Fickou should carefully consider his future in the coming months. Does he really want to waste his best years at a club that no longer covets creativity or does he wish to give free rein to his formidable talent in a club that is willing to let him run a few risks?