ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has vowed not to underestimate rivals France ahead of their crunch Six Nations title decider at Twickenham on Saturday.
The championship could well be determined on points difference for the second successive year, with England currently holding a slender advantage over reigning champions Ireland, who conclude their programme against Scotland.
Wales are the other main contenders in the three-way battle but would be required to overhaul a daunting points deficit against Italy in Rome, while England could still conceivably finish fourth should results conspire against them.
England will know precisely what is required to claim the Six Nations crown against Les Bleus due to their evening kick-off, and Lancaster insists victory against a side which has only won once at Twickenham in the Six Nations era has to be the primary objective.
“France are a very proud side. There is no way they will lie down at Twickenham and on their day are a world class side which we’ve seen throughout the last four five years,” said Lancaster. “We’ve got a huge challenge coming our way.
“They’re a high-quality team, very big and physical. As they showed last year when they played Ireland, they played right through for the full 80 in that last game even though they couldn’t win the championship.
“It could still be the case they have something to play for, so we won’t start dreaming yet, we’ll get our detail right. We need to get the performance right first before we even think about the points margin.
“There are a lot of hypotheticals. You don’t know how the other two games will play out. Clearly we’ll know the outcome before we start, which is an advantage on last year.
“By the time the Ireland game finishes we’ll know what the objective is and will feed that through to the key decision-makers. Everyone else should be concentrating on their job to get a win for the team.”
England have finished runners-up in the Six Nations championship for three consecutive years, while the title would represent the first piece of major trophy of Lancaster’s reign.
Six Nations silverware would also be a major boost for Lancaster and his side given the consistent viewing of results and performances through the prism of a home World Cup, which begins in September.
“If we could get the Six Nations title under our belt in the lead up to the World Cup, that would be fantastic,” added Lancaster.
“But you don’t get rewards by thinking about them, you must deliver them.
“We were in a similar position going into the Italy game last year when we knew points difference would decide it. But as I say, the emphasis on Saturday will be the same as that day, to get the performance right first and foremost.”
Forwards: Dave Attwood, Kieran Brookes, Calum Clark, Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Nick Easter, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Geoff Parling, Chris Robshaw, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Tom Wood, Tom Youngs
Backs: Mike Brown, Sam Burgess, Luther Burrell, Danny Care, Danny Cipriani, Kyle Eastmond, George Ford, Alex Goode, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Stephen Myler, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Billy Twelvetrees, Anthony Watson, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Youngs