Saint-Andre a readymade 'scapegoat'
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre volunteered to be the scapegoat for France's much criticized performances, as he brought back powerhouse Louis Picamoles for the Six Nations decider against Ireland.
France faced a torrent of criticism following their insipid 19-17 win over Scotland last weekend, on the back of a limp effort in losing 6-27 in Wales two weeks earlier.
"There is frustration over the last match," acknowledged the coach, who made four changes for the team to play Saturday.
But Saint-Andre said the critics should halt their attacks on his players.
"What happens on the outside is not important. If I have to be the scapegoat, then no problem. But let the players do their work," he said, before reminding everyone that he does not have a full-strength side to pick from.
"When you realise how many important players are out injured, there are six, seven, eight. and yet we still see this group improving, picking themselves up and still being in a position to win the Six Nations.
"We're still dreaming about winning, about scoring 15 tries and that everyone's in a dream.
"But seriously, we're doing a lot better than last year at this point. Then we had three defeats and a draw, now we have three wins."
Saint-Andre has recalled Picamoles, who was left out last weekend as punishment for having sarcastically applauded referee Alain Rolland after being sent to the sin-bin against Wales in Cardiff.
Despite the predictable nature of Picamoles's return, Saint-Andre sprang a surprise by making him blindside flank, leaving Damien Chouly at No.8 for the second match in a row, although the coach said there could be some "switching" of positions during the game.
Saint-Andre also brought back his preferred flyhalf Remi Tales in place of Stade Francais youngster Jules Plisson, who struggled against Scotland.
Saint-Andre, though, insisted it was merely a tactical decision based on the Castres No.10's better defence.
"It's not a punishment [against Plisson], it's a strategic decision," said Saint-Andre.
The other main change was the decision to give teenage centre Gael Fickou only his second start in a France shirt.
The 19-year-old Toulouse back scored the dramatic late try that beat England in France's opening Six Nations clash, just minutes after entering the fray.
And Saint Andre is banking on his talent alongside Mathieu Bastareaud, with usual first choice Wesley Fofana still out injured.
"He is in form, he is fast," said Saint Andre. "We need to see his talent on show from the start."
As a consequence, Maxime Mermoz drops to the bench.
Plisson misses out altogether with Saint-Andre opting for just two backs on the bench – the second being scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain – alongside six forwards, just as he did against England.
The final change sees Dimitri Szarzewski coming back as hooker in place of Brice Mach.
Szarzewski was injured for the Scotland game in Edinburgh and his return is no surprise as Saint-Andre looks to inject some power back into a pack that under-performed at Murrayfield.
Ireland, England and France are level on points but such is the chasm in points difference between the teams, Les Bleus know that even if they beat the Irish, they still need Italy to do them a favour against England to come away with the championship crown.