France coach Marc Lievremont acclaimed England as the best team in the northern hemisphere on Saturday after the defending Six Nations champions came up short in the key match of the championship at Twickenham.
While England team manager Martin Johnson refused to even contemplate the possibility of a grand slam for his team after a hard-fought 17-9 victory, Lievremont had no such reservations.
"England are the best team in the northern hemisphere at the moment," Lievremont told a news conference. "The path to the grand slam is wide open."
France, who won the grand slam themselves last year, battled hard throughout after a nervous start.
They lost the first lineout of the match on their throw and were penalised at the first scrum after their pack was disrupted by the England eight.
After back-pedalling in the opening 10 minutes, the French fought back to tie the score 9-9 at halftime and could have taken the lead if Dimitri Yachvili had converted a fourth penalty just before the interval.
A storming period immediately after the break by the home side, resulting in a try for fullback Ben Foden, proved the turning point.
"That was the key," said Lievremont. "We didn't start very well. It was a very close game but at the start of the second half we weren't good enough.
"When England scored, the French didn't react well and they (England) were very close to scoring another try."
Lievremont said England had been fitter than his team, which may have been a pointed reference to number eight Sebastien Chabal who was substituted after 50 minutes.
Chabal and Yachvili were two of five changes to the French team for Saturday's match as Lievremont sought to counter England power in the close encounters.
Neither proved a success. Chabal made a few predictable charges which were quickly snuffed out by England but otherwise offered little and seemed to spend more time in the backline than he did up front.
Yachvili, starting ahead of Morgan Parra, was indirectly responsible for the England try when Tom Palmer charged down an attempted clearance to put his team in an ideal attacking position.
With Clement Poitrenaud a mixture of the good, the bad and the downright ugly at fullback, Lievremont brought on Julien Bonnaire for Chabal and Damien Traille as the last line of defence 10 minutes into the second half.
France responded with their best passage of play in the match, with flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc hoisting the ball high to make full use of the height and athleticism of his chasing centres Aureline Rougerie and Yannick Jauzion.
Yachvili missed a further opportunity to put points on the board when an attempted penalty hit the uprights and Rougerie was denied a try when he knocked on diving across the England line after a deft through kick from Trinh-Duc.
France kept running the ball but the England defence held firm and the French team management were happy to concede that the better side had won.
"Today England played better," said captain Thierry Dusatoir. "This is not what we wanted."