Serge Betsen interview: Former flanker on England and Premiership rugby

Serge Betsen interview: Former flanker on England and Premiership rugby

Serge Betsen is a former France international who spent four years in England playing for Wasps.

Betsen, now 44, also posted 45 points in 63 appearances for the national side, for whom he scored a try in their World Cup semi-final loss to England in 2003.

The ex-flanker, who enjoyed 12 years with Biarritz before joining Wasps, did win the Six Nations Championship with France in 2007 before retiring from the game in June 2011.

In an exclusive bwin interview, Betsen shares his thoughts on England’s Autumn Internationals and their prospects for the Six Nations and World Cup, as well as discussing Premiership rugby.

Autumn Internationals

What are your predictions for England in the Autumn Internationals?

I think it’s going to be a very exciting Autumn Internationals for England, with so many good teams coming to Twickenham in such a short space of time. I think England will follow up their win against South Africa by beating Japan and Australia. It’s an exciting time as both a player and a fan. It’s going to be tough because visiting nations are always very motivated to prove they can beat England at Twickenham. It’s probably the biggest away fixture in rugby.

The Autumn Internationals are a big test for the players. It’s their final audition to be part of the Six Nations and they know they’re unlikely to be a part of the World Cup if they don’t make that squad in February. It’s a great opportunity for the players to show what they’re capable of against southern hemisphere teams who tend to play a different style. A lot of the decisions for the World Cup in Japan will be based on the performances in the Autumn Internationals.

England have just beaten South Africa at Twickenham. Where did they go wrong in the away Test series?

England didn’t play with momentum in South Africa which means they weren’t effective or clinical in attacking positions. You need to build play consistently otherwise you’re relying on moments of magic to score tries. They had that moment of magic from [Danny] Cipriani in the final Test, but it was missing until then and I think that’s why England lost the series.

Do you think England will miss Danny Cipriani in the Autumn Internationals?

England will miss Danny Cipriani in the Autumn Internationals, there’s no doubt about that. I’m very surprised he isn’t in the squad and the opposing players will be relieved. I think he is one of the most free-spirited, creative players in Europe. He was a key figure in getting the win and breaking that losing streak against South Africa. Cipriani plays an interesting and impressive game and England will definitely miss that during the internationals. I hope he will return to the squad in the Six Nations and be able to play in the World Cup next year.

Should Charlie Sharples be called up the England squad?

Charlie should be playing for England in the Autumn Internationals, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have been in that squad. I think he has improved a lot and has learned a lot in recent years. I think he is ready to take that next step and perform for England at a high level.

Who will be England’s key men in the Autumn Internationals?

I think Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly will be England’s best players during the Autumn Internationals, I think they’re capable of making a real difference to the result. Itoje is so crucial to England’s success. He always brings that dynamic and positive presence on the field. Elliot Daly is a rarity in modern rugby because he is so talented and so clinical that he can play in multiple positions. He is a unique asset to England and they’re very difficult to beat with both Itoje and Daly on the field.

I’m also really looking forward to seeing Chris Ashton back in an England shirt. They will be very relieved after he scored tries against them for the Barbarians, he was on fire! He has a fantastic try-scoring record. I like the young flanker, Tom Curry, I’ve had my eye on him and he has had such an impressive start in the Premiership this season. I think he is one to watch for anyone playing England.

Do you think England can beat New Zealand?

England have what it takes to beat New Zealand, but it will be a challenging game for them. I think England should beat New Zealand with the players they have. I think it is about having a positive and aggressive attitude. England players can’t just sit back and relax because New Zealand player will punish you if you give them time on the ball. I know how difficult that is, but it’s crucial to your chances of winning. New Zealand have earned the right to be recognised as the best team in the world.

I’ll be backing England for the win. I think the northern hemisphere countries have to support our counterparts when playing southern hemisphere countries.

Six Nations & World Cup

Where did England go wrong in the Six Nations?

I think England paid the price of being arrogant and over confident during the Six Nations. The players looked like they thought they were better than everyone else and just needed to turn up to get the win. There was lack of respect and knowledge from England and they paid the price for that. England missed out on the Six Nations and it was a stupid approach to have. They should have prepared better and had more respect for their opponents.

How far do you think England can go in this Six Nations?

I think England will recover from this year’s disappointment by winning the Six Nations in 2019. They play the majority of games at Twickenham and that is such a huge advantage. The fixtures have worked in their favour so they should finish second at the very least. Anything less than second and it would be very disappointing.

Do you think England could sack Eddie Jones if England don’t perform in the Autumn Internationals?

I don’t think England would sack Eddie Jones if they had a poor Autumn Internationals. It’s difficult because they’re going through a very tough period at the moment, but it would be near impossible for a new manager to come in before the World Cup and prepare the players how he wants them to perform.

It might be a different story if the tournament was sooner, but there is no time now for someone new to come in and build a relationship with the players before the World Cup so getting rid of Eddie Jones is not an option. I think Eddie Jones will see out his current contract and then there will be a new manager after the tournament. If anyone could replace him before the World Cup, it would be Richard Hill.

Could England win the World Cup in Japan?

England should target winning the World Cup in 2019, but I think they will fall short. It was a fantastic achievement to win so many consecutive games, but that has been reversed now with current form. England are a good side but they’re not committed enough to be winning the World Cup right now. They need to build the team before they’re good enough to take the title from New Zealand.

Premiership Rugby

How do you rate Wasps’ chances of winning the Premiership this year?

Wasps are struggling at the moment so I don’t see them winning the Premiership this year. I hope they will improve, but I don’t see them competing against Saracens and Exeter.

What team do you think can win the Premiership this season? 

I think the Exeter Chiefs will win the Premiership. They are playing exceptionally well as a unit and that is what is needed to win the Premiership.

I also really enjoy watching Newcastle for their European games. The last-minute win against Montpellier was incredible and well deserved. They’re on top in Europe even though they’re at the bottom of the Premiership. 

Who are you keeping tabs on in the Premiership right now? 

Chris Ashton is back after his ban and he’s a good player, but he’s not one of the best players in the Premiership. Elliot Daly and George Ford are excellent players and they’re my favourites to watch. Ford will follow in the footsteps of Danny Cipriani eventually but he’s not there yet. I also really like watching Jack Nowell who is showing some real promise at the moment.

Who was the toughest player you played against?

Phil Vickery was the toughest player I played against during my career. He was an exceptional player, and he was so strong in the tackle. Vickery put his opposite number through their paces a lot of the time, including me!

If you were to play in the Premiership right now, would you go back to Wasps?

I wouldn’t return to Wasps if I was a player now. I would love to play for the Exeter Chiefs if I was a player today. The team mentality at Exeter is something I resonate with well because they never give up and work well together as a team. Exeter deserve every win they get because they put in the hard work as a team and compete for every second of the game.

Controversies around tackling in rugby

After the controversies around the dangers of rugby recently, do you think players should have more protection from injuries?

I don’t think that players need any more protection despite recent injuries. The rules of rugby are protection enough if the players stick to and obey them. We’ve seen a lot of cards shown because of the rule changes now players aren’t allowed to touch the head of their opponent. People are beginning to see that we have to put the players’ welfare first.

What I am most concerned about is making sure players follow these rules to safeguard the welfare of everyone playing the game. Everyone wants to see good, flowing rugby with goals and clean passes, but we have to remember that safety must come first. We must ensure defenders are defending at the waist and they’re not going in for above the waist tackles. Coaches should be teaching players to tackle correctly and it’s definitely something the game needs to work on. The answer lies in coaching rather than the rules changing. It’s too late to change them now anyway.

How tough is it to play competitive games so often with the international rugby fixture list?

I think it is very difficult to move from club to international rugby competitions and games. There needs to be an importance placed on players resting. In the UK they only allow players to play a certain amount of games which is something I never had during my playing career. I believe international players should rest and play restricted amounts of games as we need to look after the players’ welfare.

Players need to ensure they are 100% fit before playing the next game. International games are so intense and the opposite numbers that each player comes up against will test them throughout the whole 80 minutes. From my personal experience, I know that recovery is key for players. Teams should be helping the players with physiotherapists to ensure the player is fresh for when he returns to club rugby.

From my experience, everything comes down to the desire to win games and trophies.  Teams will not win if national and international clubs do not invest in the players. Clubs need to ensure there is support in terms of physiotherapists, player welfare and post-retirement help for retiring players.