AFP - Frederic Michalak's omission from the 30-strong France training squad for the Six Nations is neither a surprise nor a shock as the French rugby establishment opt once again to shun his mercurial talents for more predictable playmakers.
There is no doubt that Michalak is a prodigious talent and one who, on his day, can easily match and even outclass the world's leading game-breakers.
On his offdays, however, he incurs the wrath of the scathing French fans and media alike, often to a degree rarely seen with other under-performing players.
"I'm disappointed to not be playing for the national team. But as happens every time, I tell myself that I have to keep on working and test myself in order to get picked again," Michalak told L'Equipe sports daily on Wednesday.
Michalak only returned to French club rugby in November after helping steer the Sharks past the Blue Bulls in South Africa's Currie Cup final, but his wavering form for Toulouse has failed to impress France coach Marc Lievremont.
Lievremont, speaking to Aujourd'Hui Sport newspaper on Tuesday, said: "Two years ago, even if he had not mastered everything, he had this talent to make the difference in a game but he hardly does that today.
"In my opinion, he's a scrum-half."
Backs coach Emile Ntamack added: "Today he's a bit behind. That's not something that interests us because we want a player who's consistent.
Michalak, as a precocious 18-year-old, played scrum-half when Toulouse won the French league, but won his first two caps for France a year later at outside-half. He has since won a further 43 of his 50 caps in the playmaking role.
However, his options at Toulouse have also never been too clear, with coach Guy Noves preferring Jeff Dubois at 10 before Michalak's departure to South Africa in 2007, and now David Skrela.
At scrum-half, Toulouse have France international veteran Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and former All Black Byron Kelleher in place.
Elissalde also offers an impressive goal kicking game that Michalak has this season failed to even come close to matching, with a success rate of just 48.7 percent.
Michalak countered that the most important thing was not the number on a player's back but his utmost commitment on the field.
"I've already played several times at scrum-half with Toulouse," the 26-year-old said. "If the France coach wants me to play there, I'll do it.
"Generally speaking we don't ask about what number you wear. We just try to give the maximum on the field."
He added: "Before playing for the France team, you have to be playing for Toulouse and that's not easy with all the good players that there are."
One person shocked by Michalak's failure to make the squad, let alone be France's stand-out outside-half, was Sharks coach Dick Muir, who even shifted talented Springbok Francois Steyn out to inside-centre to accommodate the Frenchman in the Natal team.
"I find it absolutely incredible that Fred hasn't his place in the France 15," Muir told L'Equipe. "The French coaches must have some great players at their disposal!
"Fred is a marvellous talent, exceptional gift for the game and sometimes offers up some magicial moments.
"Also, his ability to play both at 9 and 10 is unmatched. It's a real bonus that allows you to have a subs bench of five forwards and just two backs.
"Everyone here was sorry to see him go.
"As soon as he sniffs the slightest gap, he is dangerous and he knows how to create space for his team-mates.
"We were also pleasantly surprised by his defensive qualities."
In announcing his 30-man training squad on Wednesday, Lievremont plumped for just one specialist No 10 in Lionel Beauxis, who ironically has been playing much of his club rugby for Stade Francais at full-back and missed all the November internationals because of a thigh injury.
Elissalde and Bourgoin's Morgan Parra offer options for both half-back slots, with Castres' Sebastien Tillous-Borde the sole out-and-out scrum-half in the squad which will be pared down to 23 next week.