France coach Marc Lievremont believes England are operating at a higher level to the rest of the Six Nations teams and admits that the prospect of playing Martin Johnson's men at Twickenham next week is already giving him a headache.
Lievremont watched England trounce Italy 59-13 from France's hotel in Dublin on Saturday. He also studied an edited highlights DVD of the game again yesterday as France made their way home after their fortunate 25-22 win over Ireland. Like much of the rugby world, he has been greatly impressed by England's new confident approach.
"I'm already feeling something of a headache looking towards the England match because they are looking very sure of themselves. They are ahead of everybody else at the moment," he said.
"They are playing with great pace and intensity and a new generation of players are developing very rapidly. The rest of us, the other five nations, have been operating at a lower level and the challenge is for us to change.
"We know that we have some weaknesses and issues to resolve but we will do that and the short break has come at a good time for us.
"We regroup again on Thursday and we have 10 days to put things right. We will go away, discuss the issues and work on them. We will move ahead and improve because we must improve. It is simple.
"There are still too many defensive errors, we are conceding tries too easily.
"Sometimes we are being pulled out of our defensive shape. There were technical errors and mistakes involving a lot of impatience on our part, which makes the match very stressful for us."
Lievremont has identified his team's powder-puff defence as a major problem as they prepare to take on a rejuvenated, attack-minded England who have rediscovered their cutting edge in the form of Chris Ashton.
France have already conceded as many tries -- six -- in the 2011 Six Nations, as they did in the whole of last season's Grand Slam campaign.
If you factor in the six tries a rampant Australia amassed in the second half of their game at the Stade de France in November, the French have now leaked 12 tries in their last 200 minutes of Test rugby.
A chastened Lievremont departed Dublin yesterday morning hinting that Sebastien Chabal and Jerome Thion can expect call-ups for the Twickenham showdown as he looks to introduce extra physicality. Chabal played a fine hand defensively as a replacement against Ireland and was one of the few France players to distinguish himself.
Thion also put himself about when he came on, although his comically poor attempt to fly-hack the ball clear late in the second half led to Jamie Heaslip's try. The players facing the axe are Clermont lock Julien Pierre and his club colleague in the back-row Julien Bonnaire, whose absence would reduce France's line-out options.
Lievremont is also under pressure to drop the under-performing Damien Traille at centre and recall Yannick Jauzion.
"We suffered physically against the Irish, we lost our vision and discipline at very important moments," said Lievremont. "There could be changes in the pack, possibly two -- Julien Pierre and Julien Bonnaire."
The introduction of Chabal from the start would raise the intensity levels for France but would involve careful handling. He does not tend to go the full 80 minutes these days at Test level and lacks Bonnaire's craft at the line-out. He does look hungry, though, and spoke yesterday like a man who expected to be involved.
"England played great rugby against Italy, they moved the ball and were strong, but Italy didn't play well," Chabal said. "I believe the winner of the next round will win the Six Nations. So we will do our best to get a result in England." (© Daily Telegraph, London)