Beware the wounded French - Lancaster
England coach Stuart Lancaster has warned that France will be no pushovers in Saturday's showdown at Twickenham despite starkly contrasting starts to the Six Nations tournament for the sides.
The English have built on their stunning win over the All Blacks in the November tests with convincing victories over Scotland and Ireland and now see the very real prospect before them of a first Grand Slam since the World Cup winning year of 2003.
France on the other hand have failed to live up to their pre-tournament favourites' tag with demoralising losses to Italy and Wales for their worst-ever start to a Six Nations tournament.
That has left coach Philippe Saint-Andre under attack for his team selection and tactics and he has defended himself by pointing to the influx of top foreign players into the cash-rich Top 14 league and the demands of club rugby on his own players.
While Lancaster refuses to dismiss the threat of France on the basis of two losses, he insists the English model is starting to produce results.
"It's a bit early to say that France are suffering. There's no doubt they have a very strong club programme and their club teams are very good," he said.
"It's far too early on the back of two games to say France aren't a good side. They beat Australia 33-6 in the autumn and Australia then beat us.
"While we'll take something out of their first two Six Nations games, we'll also take something out of those autumn internationals and make sure we're ready for them.
"If you go through the players who will play against us and when you see them in their club colours they are good, experienced, tough, big, physical players. So it ain't going to be easy.
"But the club-country agreement and the English Qualified Players scheme we have are both really positive initiatives.
"They were brought in when I started in 2008 and I think we're seeing the fruits of that coming through now, particularly the English Qualified Player scheme.
"We've got a majority of English-based players in the Premiership which is critical for me. We have key English players playing in key positions like fly-half.
Lancaster also pointed to France's roller-coaster performances during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand as a warning sign that they could return to top form at any moment.
On that occasion, under previous coach Marc Lievremont, the French were fortunate to squeeze past the group stages, but they then turned things around and reached the final narrowly losing to New Zealand.
"You definitely get a backs-against-the-wall mentality when a team is in the position where they are. You want to prove a point," Lancaster said.
"In the autumn we'd lost two games to Australia and South Africa. We got the response we wanted against New Zealand. France are a dangerous side, full stop.
"France having lost two games and coming to Twickenham with nothing to lose in their minds is a pretty dangerous proposition.
"France have had a rest week haven't they? None of their squad played in the Top 14 last weekend which normally they do. That tells me something," he said.