Yann Delaigue says the huge influx of foreign players in the Top 14 is damaging French rugby and thinks it could take up to five years for Les Bleus to compete with the best in the world.
France won just three of 11 Tests last year and lost their first two Six Nations matches last month in a new era under Jacques Brunel, who replaced sacked head coach Guy Noves.
Former France fly-half Delaigue feels the vast quantity of overseas imports is preventing young talent from being given the chance to develop and that is harming the national team.
He told Omnisport: "We have a big problem in that we just can't seem to compete against the big nations.
"We have a problem in that in our championship we have a lot of foreign players and we don't give the young French players enough opportunities. The players are unable to develop technically and physically."
Delaigue added: "I think it could take up to five years to become a strong nation. We have good young players, but we need them to gain more experience playing in the Top 14 so they can develop into stars.
"We know that and things may change now, but it will take time for that to show with results."
Brunel got the first victory of his reign against Italy last time out and Delaigue thinks he could be a good appointment, but does not think it was a change of head coach that France need to move forward.
"Jacques Brunel is a good guy. Guy Noves was also a good guy, I don't think the coach is the problem, there is much more to it than that," Delaigue said.
- Delaigue was speaking during the Tournoi des 6 Stations Orangina [The 6 Stations Tournament] on the snow in the French Alps from February 12-18. For more information on the event visit http://tournoides6stations.com/en/