He's long been earmarked as the next big thing in the French midfield, so when will Gael Fickou break through to become a bonafide Test star?
At 17, Gael Fickou was described by Shaun Edwards as the future of centre play, while Sir Clive Woodward believes he and Wesley Fofana could form the best midfield partnership in the world; but the 21-year-old isn’t yet appreciated in the same way in his home country.
Barring an injury or a sudden change of mind from Philippe Saint-André – which is admittedly not out of the question – Fickou won’t feature in France‘s final pool decider against Ireland in a fortnight.
The question is, why is a player as prodigiously talented as Fickou not yet considered first choice for Les Bleus?
The Toulouse youngster started his first World Cup game last Wednesday against Romania, lining up alongside Fofana, and scoring a try in the closing stages of a 38-11 victory.
It was a far from perfect display at the Olympic Stadium, with a couple of frustrating knock-ons ending what had looked like promising attacks.
With France struggling to hold onto the ball at the breakdown, those mistakes became all the more crucial, but the ease with which Fickou stepped his way through the Romanian defence reminded people of why he has been rated highly for so long. Woodward likened him to Jonathan Joseph and it’s easy to see the similarities, with their graceful running style and quick feet allowing them to dance past defenders.
He first really came to prominence for England fans with a stunning individual try on his Heineken Cup debut against Leicester in 2012, then again with his match-winning try to down England in Paris 16 months later.
The problem for Fickou is that his distribution hasn’t developed to match his gamebreaking ability, and despite being used a lot at 12 by Toulouse, his instinct remains to run rather than to pass. In that sense he is very similar to Fofana, another majestic runner, with an even greater nose for the tryline.
As Saint-André tries to impose his gameplan of ‘combat, combat and more combat’, it’s Mathieu Bastareaud who has become the key cog in the French midfield.
For all their distribution struggles, both Fickou and Fofana are ahead of Bastareaud in that department but only one can start alongside Basta and at the moment Fofana and Alexandre Dumoulin are ahead of Fickou.
The other issue for Fickou is that a knee injury he suffered playing for Toulouse in March had kept him out of action for the rest of the season. In fact last week’s clash with Romania was his first start of any kind since he suffered that injury against Toulon six months ago.
“It had been a long time so I’m very pleased to have represented my country,” he explained. “It had been a while so it was a bit strange to play all 80 minutes. There was some positive stuff and some negative stuff but I’ll try to retain the positive at the end for the future.
“It’s nice to score a try at the World Cup. That’s always something that’s very positive. There were a few things which were less convincing but you have to learn from that.”
And what about the fact that he is seemingly rated higher on this side of the channel than in France? Well Fickou knows that it’s up to him to convince Saint-André that Edwards and Woodward are right about him.
And if he doesn’t, his former Toulouse coach Guy Novès will be taking over from Saint-André after the World Cup, and you can be sure that he appreciates the value of the 21-year-old.
“It’s obviously pleasing to see that the English think highly of me and that they talk about me,” Fickou added.
“But I play for France and I’m very happy to do so. It’s up to me to convince the coaches so that they think the same thing.
“We get on really well with Wesley and I enjoy playing with him. It could have gone better against Romania but for one of our first games together it was pretty good.”