Betsen banishes yellow streak

France flanker Serge Betsen will be aiming to exorcise his personal demons of four years ago when he takes the field against England in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final.

Betsen was yellow-carded at a delicate stage of the 2003 semi-final for a dangerous tackle on Jonny Wilkinson.

And in the 10 minutes the Biarritz star was in the cooler just after the break, Wilkinson kicked nine points to help England to a 24-7 victory and a place in the final.

Betsen still blames himself to this day, and he is eager to make amends when the two countries meet at the Stade de France tonight.

“It was the ambition of the French team to get to the final that day, and the chance eluded them,” he said.

“I felt guilty because the team was penalised as a result of my yellow card. But I think that will spur me on.

“But at that time, we were playing the best team in the world, and there’s nothing we could have done – it’s as simple as that.

“Four years ago, England were the better team that day. Now the English have what we don’t have – the World Cup trophy.”

Betsen and Wilkinson have had a number of run-ins down the years.

The Frenchman famously gave the Newcastle fly-half a rough ride in 2002 in a Six Nations Championship match, which Les Bleus won 20-15 in Paris.

Wilkinson got his own back a year later at the World Cup in a masterful display of kicking as Betsen lost his temperament, but each confrontation between the pair is something to behold.

Betsen still regards Wilkinson as the best fly-half in the world, despite his persistent injury problems over the past four years.

“He has shown everybody that he is still the best, simply the best,” Betsen said.

“He has shown to everybody that he has been out of action for three or four years but he is still able to be ready for the World Cup.

“I congratulate him for this. It’s an example of professionalism and perseverance.

“It’s more the media that build up the story (of their rivalry). For me, what is important is that I am playing the best number 10 in the world.

“The key to this match will be not making mistakes and not giving him any of the ball to punish us.

“If we are able to avoid making mistakes like we did against New Zealand last week, that will be very important for us.

“And it is not just me who must stop him, everybody has a role to play there.”

Betsen has been given the all-clear to play tonight, despite receiving a nasty blow to the head in France’s 20-18 victory over New Zealand in last weekend’s quarter-final in Cardiff.

 

365 Digital

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