Martin Johnson warned against writing off England's RBS 6 Nations title chances just because English clubs have struggled in Europe this season.
Northampton are the only one from seven Guinness Premiership clubs to have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup but Johnson insisted there is no correlation between that disappointment and England's ambitions of winning their first championship title since 2003.
"In an ideal world we'd have three or four teams there (in the quarter-finals) because it is good for the players, but we haven't," Johnson said at the competition launch in London. "Last year the French clubs didn't have a particularly good time of it in Europe but the Six Nations games were very close. This year they will be very close."
He added: "Last year we lost to Ireland and Wales by a combined total of nine points. Scotland were very competitive last year and they will be a better side this year.
"It will be just as tight this year. Anyone who predicts who will win the title is a brave guy."