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Interview with S. BETSEN

"For me the biggest difference is..."

The Premiership rugby is considered as one of the best championships in the world with
many World famous clubs and highly contested matches. However, it remains rather unknown in
France, few players have dared to play on the other side of the Channel. Why do you think they are
so few French players in the English championship? What are the main differences between French
and English rugby? So many questions that will be answered by our guest, former flanker of the XV
of France: Serge Betsen.
Serge Betsen started playing in the Parisian suburbs and more precisely at the Clichy club. His first professional club was the Biarritz Olympique, with which he won three French Champion
titles (2002, 2005 and 2006). It was in 2002 that he won the best player award. In 2008, he chose to
go to England to join the London Wasps club. With 63 selections with the XV of France, it is a
legend of French rugby that will answer our questions.

Serge, you played 4 years in England after having evolved your entire career in
France, what were the main differences between the Top 14 and the Premiership?
For me the biggest difference is at the cultural level. The Anglo-Saxon approach is different
from the Latin approach on several points. In France, for example, we do not really distinguish the 6
and 7 in the back row; while in England the 7 systematically takes the open side, it runs more than
the 6 which takes the blind side and which has a style closer to the second row. These different
visions of the game are fascinating and help us progress.
You played for the B.O (Biarritz Olympique) for almost 17 years, why not stay in the
Basque country?
I owe everything to the B.O, even if I was born in Cameroon and I left Paris to join the
Basque country at 17 years old. In Biarritz, I met people who brought me a lot in my career, but after
the 2007 World Cup in France I felt that I needed a new challenge. Changing clubs makes you
progress, you are confronted with new ways of working, different visions of rugby. At the B.O I had
teammates who described London to me as a fantastic city, rugby fanatic; which reinforced my
choice.
Few French players choose to play for English clubs, why do you think that is?
It is only a matter of time (before that changes), many French players have played in England
such as A. Benazzi, T. Castaignède, T. Lacroix, R. Ibañez (who convinced me to join him at the
Wasps) or L. Picamoles more recently. The main difficulty is in the internationals selections, it is a
good thing to protect and keep young talent in our championship. I still think that playing in another
championship, discovering new work habits is rewarding, it is important personally for a professional
or amateur player.

About the fans, is there the same enthusiasm among English fans for their team, the
support of the fans is different than in France? Is there the same enthusiasm for lifting the
Premiership Trophy as with the Brennus Shield?
The year I go to Wasps, my friend J. Dupuy went to Leicester. His club qualifies for the
Premiership final and when I go to the game at Twickenham with my son, I am shocked by the lack
of frivolity of the fans. Unlike the French or the Welsh, the English fans do sing some songs but
remain very sober, respectful, no outburst of joy. It is completely different from what I experienced at
the B.O or at the Stade de France.

At the international level, you count 63 selections with the XV of France, what is your
best memory with the «Bleus»?
The 2002 Grand Slam is probably my favourite with “Les Bleus”. Making this first Grand Slam
in the history of French rugby in the 6 Nations tournament after 2 complicated years remains
something important in my career. In 2000, during a 6 Nations tournament, I took a yellow card, I
told myself that I had to work to change my mentality. B. Laporte, the coach of the XV of France at
the time allowed me to progress. He constantly put us in a zone of discomfort to push us to give the
best of ourselves. I often hear of the «Crunch» of 2002, with my duel against J. Wilkinson the
English’s master which had a massive outcome on the game.

You had the opportunity to play many games at the Stade de France, what was your
feeling when you played in this stadium?
The Stade de France is really the mythical stadium of the XV de France. It was an honor to
play after the 1998 French football team that was world champion in this stadium, with Z. Zidane
lifting the cup. Playing in the Stade de France is a real pleasure because this stadium is beloved by
the French public. Not long ago for the «Crunch» of the 2020 tournament, the atmosphere was
magnificent, these sensations reminded me of the Grand Slams of 2002 and 2004. Two other
stadiums that left their mark on me were the Principality Stadium in Cardiff with its roof closed and
its supporters at 300%. I remember the fans on fire after the breakthroughs of the Welsh Quinell
brothers. Another incredible stadium is at Marseille, with the close proximity of the players and fans.
I played there with the French team against New Zealand and Australia is the atmosphere was
great.

Throughout your career, you had the chance to play against many players, which
opponent impressed you the most?
In the 2000s, it was mainly two teams that impressed me: the Stade Toulousain and the
Stade Français. At the player level, for a flanker, his main opponents are the number 9 and 10. The
scrum-half and the fly-half that have marked me are F. Michalak, D. Skrela, R. O’Gara, P. Stringer,
J. Wilkinson. In my career I had the opportunity to play against many great players and for me there
are two great profiles: those who have an extraordinary physique like the Maka brothers, T. Umaga
or those who have the ability to change the game, and to lead like J. Wilkinson.

One of the events of the rugby news is the 8 Nation’s tournament that will replace the
tests matches of November, what do you think?
It is a great idea, it is good that nations like Fiji or Japan integrate major competitions for their
development. I’m also thinking countries like Georgia also deserve to go up. We are also talking
about a system of promotion/relegation for the 6 Nations which would generate even more interest
in the Tournament and would encourage emerging nations to make efforts to compete with the best
teams in the world. For me, rugby is one of the best sports in terms of camaraderie, fans and
values. It would be beneficial to have more and more competitive teams for the World Cup and the
Olympic Games. We should follow the 7s model with teams like Kenya able to beat New Zealand or
England.

You retired from playing in 2012 how have you found the transition from playing into
civilian life? You are running a consultation company and an academy in Cameroon now,
can you tell me more about what that involves?
The Life after a rugby career is not something easy, I set up my academy in Cameroon while
I was still playing in 2004 (16 years already). The goal of the «Serge Betsen Academy» is to show
that thanks to rugby, we can have access to care and education. When I was no longer playing in
France, I had the opportunity to commentate on matches in France and England. At that time, I was
in contact with entrepreneurs. So I decided to create my consulting company to help companies
develop their team spirit and team building. We cover several areas: connecting, motivating teams,
and coaching.

Find here the Serge Betsen’s academy : https://www.sergebetsenacademy.org/fr/

More interviews in our Blog.

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