The French are coming. Coach Philippe Saint-André has blamed the punishing domestic schedule for the tiredness and sloppiness of his team's play in recent weeks, and while the malaise sweeping through their rugby recently has been well-documented, it is a fool who writes off the French completely. Their autumn form was scintillating and it is the same group of players that we are talking about, so there's no doubt England must remain wary of the threats they pose. Here are four reasons they should not be underestimated:1. Wesley Fofana is set to play in the centre
For all of Brian O'Driscoll's brilliance, Wesley Fofana is undoubtedly the best centre in the Northern Hemisphere. His picks probably the best lines in the world and has such devastating acceleration that if you fall asleep for a split-second in defence he will be past you. He has been wasted on the wing, but with Maxime Mermoz dropped and Vincent Clerc back in the squad, it is likely he will line up in the centre at Twickenham.
2. Freddie Michalak is due a big performance
He is in stinking form, that's for sure. But he is so mercurial that at some point he will reward you with a match-winning performance. Starting François Trinh-Duc would be the safe option, but Michalak is due a big game and knows what it is like to win at Twickenham. He could be the catalyst for a changed French performance.
3. They have finally had some rest
Saint-André has (quite rightly) bemoaned the Top 14 schedule for not allowing his players any rest. The EPS members in England have all had a rest over the past few months as part of the deal that means they cannot play every game over a certain period of time, whereas the French players have all been available for every game for their clubs. Some have already notched up 20 games this season. Last weekend, however, the players stayed in camp and were not returned to their clubs. They have finally had a chance to have some rest, and should be fresher than they have looked so far.
4. They're the underdogs
For the first time this tournament, the French aren't expected to win. Reports in the French press this week have been of a relaxed squad, happy but focused as they trained together at their camp at Marcoussis just to the south of Paris. The French rugby public will be hoping for a win but after two dire losses, not necessarily expecting one. The team should be able to play with a little less pressure on their shoulders, which will hopefully (from a French point of view) loosen them up a bit.
Realistically, no one in the England camp will be counting any chickens this week. They will be well aware that this France team has too many good players in it for it to keep malfunctioning so spectacularly. The old cliché is that you never know which French team will turn up; England will be preparing for that of the autumn series, while hoping for that of the Six Nations.