Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Lancaster not writing off France

Stuart Lancaster refuses to reassess the strength of France on the basis of two losses

England coach Stuart Lancaster insists the obituary of French rugby is being written far too hastily as the RBS 6 Nations rivals experience contrasting fortunes ahead of Saturday's clash at Twickenham.

While an elusive Grand Slam is the target for an England side that has recorded three successive, high-quality victories, France have once more been reduced to a rabble. Defeats to Italy and Wales have seen the pre-tournament favourites record their worst start to a Six Nations with coach Philippe Saint-Andre under attack over selection and tactics.

"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."

In his defence, Saint-Andre has complained that the continual influx of overseas players into the financially-lucrative 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.

He added: "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."

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