Dallaglio: French rugby in crisis
Lawrence Dallaglio views the poor performance of English clubs in Europe as a "crisis" for French rugby rather than evidence of a gulf in class between the Aviva Premiership and Top 14.
Saracens are the nation's solitary representative in the semi-finals after Bath, Northampton and Wasps tumbled out of the Champions Cup over the weekend, scraping through 12-11 against Racing Metro.
Most alarming of the defeats was Clermont's spellbinding 37-5 rout of reigning Premiership champions and runaway leaders Saints, whose director of rugby Jim Mallinder admitted the result points to a chasm between the English and French leagues.
The divide will only grow as more of the southern hemisphere's finest talent head for the Top 14, as typified by Will Genia's decision to snub Bath for Stade Francais and Dan Carter's vast £1.4million salary when he joins Racing Metro after the World Cup.
While former England captain Dallaglio regards the influx of household names as exciting for France's club game, he believes it is a disaster for the national side who have not finished above fourth place in the RBS 6 Nations since 2011.
"Last weekend's results don't mean there's a crisis in English rugby, rather that the French clubs have more strength in depth," Dallaglio said.
"I don't think there's a huge difference in class between the English and French leagues - the Northampton result was a one off.
"In fact I'd argue that what we're seeing is a crisis in French rugby. I see players who are outstanding for their clubs - guys like Wesley Fofana and Maxime Machenaud - not playing well for France.
"There is something going dramatically wrong in French rugby because while they're happy to attract the biggest and best foreign names to their club game, they're doing so at the expense of their national side.
"There's a balance to be struck and we've got it right in England, Ireland and Wales, but in France it's totally out of balance."
Fofana was mesmerising against Northampton yet he was eclipsed by former England full-back Nick Abendanon, whose debut season at Clermont has been a roaring success and prompted calls for an end to his international exile.
Nine months in the Top 14 has shaped Abendanon's own views on Les Bleus' shortcomings.
"A lot of the players representing France I wouldn't pick if I was their coach," Abendanon said.
"This is only my personal opinion, but the coaching at Clermont is of a very high standard while the French team is looking a little bit lost. They need guidance and better coaching.
"France seem to kick away a lot of ball, yet they have players like have Yoann Huget and Wesley Fofana in their backline."
Abendanon's Clermont will face Saracens in the first Champions Cup semi-final in Saint-Etienne on April 18, a rematch of last season's showdown at the same stage when the French club were humbled 46-6 at Twickenham.
Dallaglio believes spectators at the Stade Marcel-Michelin on Saturday had been present at a special performance that left Northampton shell-shocked.
"Clermont are the best side not to have won the European cup and you get the sense from their win against Northampton that their name might be on the trophy this year," Dallaglio said.
"That was possibly the best quarter-final performance I have seen in the history of this competition. It will take a very good side to stop them.
"Northampton will be scratching their heads wondering why they lost by so many points, but they were simply blown away by a side who reached a completely different level.
"That doesn't make Northampton a bad side - we've all come back from France with our tails between our legs after being beaten by a better side and I include myself in that."
* Lawrence Dallaglio was visiting Milton Keynes' stadiummk, the host venue for Northampton's Aviva Premiership match against Saracens on April 25 - a test event for England 2015. Tickets available at ticketmaster.co.UK/roadto2015.