Martin Johnson insisted his decision to drop Jonny Wilkinson does not signal the beginning of the end for England's World Cup-winning fly-half.
Wilkinson has been axed for only the third time in his 12-year international career after Johnson decided to revamp his back division for Saturday's clash with Grand Slam-chasing France.
"Jonny is still a world-class player. If I thought Jonny was on the decline, I wouldn't have picked him for our last seven internationals," said Johnson.
"There's not many players in world rugby who could have dropped that goal against Ireland in the last 10 minutes.
"I'm sure Jonny will be disappointed he's not starting but he's a team player. The guys on the bench will be playing in the last quarter and that's the most important quarter of the game.
The heavy blow to the head Wilkinson suffered in last weekend's 15-15 draw with Scotland has limited his preparation time but was not the reason for the change. The 30-year-old has been struggling for form all tournament and England were a more threatening animal at Murrayfield after he collided with Steve Borthwick's hip and had to be replaced.
Wilkinson has been relegated to the bench, with Toby Flood to start at fly-half in Paris in one of four changes to England's line-up behind the scrum.
Full-back Ben Foden, debutant winger Chris Ashton and veteran outside centre Mike Tindall all come into the team, at the expense of Delon Armitage, the injured Ugo Monye and Mathew Tait.
"We need at least two players in every position and we would have been happy to pick Toby in every game so far.
"Toby has been an on-field general for us in the past two years. He is graduating into the leadership camp for us as he gets more experience. Ahead of a World Cup, he needs to play in that position over the next 18 months as well as Jonny."