We have seen what he can do in the past, he started with us against Tonga, he will start his second game with us. He's in good form, he has tons of pace and we really trust him to rise to the occasion. Putting him in a starting position was only the next logical step, and he will bring a lot to our attacking game. Ireland moves the ball around very quickly and we will need Gael's skills and potential from the start. He and Mathieu Bastareaud will face a great challenge.
With Picamoles starting as a blind side flanker, can we imagine him going back and forth with Chouly during the game, between number 6 and 8?
Yes, they will probably switch back and forth. I cannot tell you much though, there might be a few Irish journalists in the room! We tried to keep the same balance in our third row, with a powerful flanker, a more mobile one, and Damien Chouly as the lineout leader.
Wouldn't it have been interesting to maintain Plisson and have a global view of his performance in the tournament? This looks like a sanction...
I have just spoken with him. First, having another quality player like him can only be a good thing for us. But, he still has parts of his game he needs to improve and work on. He needs to work on his defense. When you take a look at his statistics against Scotland, they are not up to the standards of international level. However, he is a skillful player, and there is not much he cannot do. Again, the decision to rule him out was a strategic one, with Jean-Marc Doussain covering both scrumhalf and flyhalf.
Why did you wait until this game against Ireland to start Fickou, when Scotland may have seemed like a more accessible challenge? Especially with him and Bastareaud both being outside centers...
Honestly, we use Bastareaud more as an inside center, to put us on the front foot, with someone quicker on the outside. Against Scotland, with a bad pitch and a fairly inexperienced number ten, we wanted Maxime Mermoz in number twelve. For this last game, we decided to bring in Remi Tales, who's older and more experienced, and we thought Gael would be a good fit.
What about Brice Mach being ruled out as well?
We are protecting him. Everyone has their bad days, I'm sure journalists write bad articles every now and then... He knows what he did, it happens. He will travel with us, and if needed he will come back in the squad, and I'm certain he will perform with us for his next game in the blue jersey.
You said you expected a victory. What are your expectations regarding the content of the game?
We all dream of winning, scoring fifteen tries in every game... But honestly, we are far better off now than we were last year at the same moment of the championship. Last year we had three losses and a draw, this year we have three wins. Admittedly, our game in Wales was very poor, and we didn't play a great game in Scotland either. But when you lose the ball nine times in the lineout, and you only have one scrum after which you can actually get good possession, maintaining discipline and a certain degree of control, having the mental resources to get the win in the last minutes, is still quite a performance. The content wasn't good, but it is still a victory. Now we have our eyes on Ireland, we drew against them in the last two confrontations, let's play a great game of rugby, enjoy ourselves, and if possible give a good show.
Given the current form of the two teams, would it be advised to leave the initiative of the game to Ireland?
I don't think so, no. When you have the players we have, you need to actually play the game. You need to get momentum, move the ball around, show some fighting spirit, win the collisions. The boys got out of our last game with a lot of frustration, they want to enjoy this last game, and everything that happens outside of our group is not relevant. If I have to be the center of all criticism, so be it, but let the players prepare for this amazing occasion.
Is the context of the game, with Brian O'Driscoll's last game, somewhere in the corner of your mind?
Actually, what is on our mind is the game, and enjoying this occasion with our public. We don't really want to make it a beautiful occasion for Brian O'Driscoll, even though he brought so much to Irish rugby and rugby in general. He is class, he is still playing at this level at 35. And from what we saw on video, we can all be sure he is still playing his best rugby. We will obviously keep an eye out for him.