PARISP - Coach Philippe Saint-Andre volunteered yesterday to be the scapegoat for France's much criticised performances as he brought back powerhouse Louis Picamoles for the Six Nations rugby 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 27-6 in Wales two weeks earlier.
"There is frustration over the last match," acknowledged the coach, who made four changes for the team to play tomorrow.
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 squad.
"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 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.
But the coach sprang a surprise by making him blindside flanker, leaving Damien Chouly at No.8 for the second match in a row.
The other main change was the decision to give teenage centre Gael Fickou only his second start.
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.