England v France, February 23, 2013
Lancaster wary of wounded French
February 19, 2013
Stuart Lancaster will hope to steer England to their third win in this season's Six Nations on Saturday © Getty Images
England boss Stuart Lancaster is not writing off the threat of the French despite Les Bleus coming into Saturday's Six Nations clash without a win to their name in this season's tournament.
Lancaster's team host Phillipe Saint-Andre's side at Twickenham and while England are chasing an elusive Grand Slam, France come into the match looking to secure their first victory of this campaign. Defeats to Italy and Wales have seen the pre-tournament favourites record their worst start to a Six Nations with coach Saint-Andre under attack over selection and tactics.
Saint-Andre, however, has complained that the continual influx of overseas players into the Top 14 is now having repercussions for the national team. Player release from the all-powerful French clubs also works against Saint-Andre, who must cast envious glances at the agreement struck by the Rugby Football Union and Aviva Premiership.
But while Lancaster refuses to reassess the strength 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," Lancaster 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. The quality of the younger players coming through now is also the highest I've known it."
And Lancaster has singled out France's 2011 World Cup campaign as an example of just how dangerous they are. Les Bleus toiled during the pool stages but rallied and managed to reach the final, despite a reported breakdown in relations between coach Marc Lievremont and some members of the team.
France nearly pulled off a shock win against the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup final © Getty Images
"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. I see a parallel in their mentality now from before the World Cup quarter-final against England. For 60 minutes that was France at their best, playing on deconstructed attack.
"They were playing off turnover ball or kick returns and they just come alive. There's been examples of that in the Wales and Italy games. In the final they were aggressive and hard at the breakdown and put New Zealand under a huge amount of pressure."
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