Too much too soon: Over-exposure may lead to another young star burning out

By Gavin Mortimer

LET’S NOT get carried away. Gael Fickou had a good game for Toulouse in their win over Leicester on Sunday, but was the 18-year-old’s try-scoring performance really that special?  Sure, Fickou showed the presence of mind and a sharp turn of pace to pounce on a loose ball and sprint 45 metres for the only try of a disappointing game. That was enough to convince one British newspaper that Fickou is set to be “rugby’s next global superstar”. A wee bit premature on the back of one Heineken Cup match against a Tigers team with surprisingly blunt claws.

Nonetheless Fickou clearly has class. Standing 6ft 2in and 14stone, he was the star of the French team in last summer’s U20 World Cup in South Africa. Fickou scored three tries in four matches, proof that Toulouse were right to offer him a home after he was released by Toulon at the end of last season.

Unable to earn a place in a Toulon backline containing Matt Giteau and Maxime Mermoz, Fickou has quickly been given his opportunity at Toulouse. So far this season he’s made five appearances in the Top 14, scoring one try and earning cautious praise from that wily old campaigner Guy Noves. The veteran coach describes Fickou as “intelligent” [he hopes to combine his rugby with a degree in commerce and management], and says his attitude “corresponds to the Toulouse philosophy.”

However, during his 19 years in charge of Toulouse, Noves has seen more than his fair share of promising teenage players fail to negotiate the rocky path from adolescence to manhood. Admitting that the club has a lot of hope for Fickou, Noves said that he must “work hard for two or three seasons if he wants to reach the top level”. Then he added: “Is Gaël Fickou the best centre in France today? No. Could he be one day? I don’t know, we’ll see. He wants to work [at becoming the best] and we’re going to help him.” So is Philippe Saint-Andre, the coach of France who on Tuesday named Fickou in his 33-man squad for the autumn Tests.

Les Bleus face Argentina, Australia and Samoa next month and there’s a good chance Fickou will win his first cap in one of those matches. One notable absentee from the French squad is Aurélien Rougerie, the veteran Clermont centre who looks to have played his last Test for France. Who needs a 32-year-old when you have the 18-year-old Fickou, the 24-year-old Wesley Fofana and the 26-year-old Maxime Mermoz?

“At the moment I have the impression to be living the dream,” said Fickou in the wake of his man of the match performance against Leicester. He then thanked his Toulouse teammates, notably fellow centres Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz, for their help in bringing him this far. So he’s modest, too…the boy appears to have everything!

Who knows, perhaps Fickou really is “rugby’s next global superstar” , or perhaps he’s just another good player put on a pedestal by a media always on the lookout for heroes. Don’t forget they were saying the same thing about Danny Cipriani six years ago, and these days the 24-year-old struggles to get in to the Sale team.