Betsen prepares to put spoke in England wheels

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The Independent Online

Serge Betsen's job today became dramatically harder after Clive Woodward announced two significant changes to the England team for Sunday's World Cup semi-final.

Back comes Richard Hill from injury, arguably the finest blindside flanker in the world and a man whose "work in the shadows" heralds the ultimate respect from Betsen, his French equivalent.

Mike Catt also returns to play inside-centre alongside Jonny Wilkinson, doubling England's creativity options and making it that much harder for Betsen and Company to execute the strangling defensive tactics which accounted for Ireland last week.

The French also accounted for Clive Woodward's men in Paris last year as Betsen shrouded Wilkinson, kept England's attacking source in check and ultimately forced Woodward into a tactical rethink for this year's Twickenham meeting, which was won 25-17.

"The last Six Nations game, Wilkinson was playing a bit deeper from scrums and lineouts," recalled Betsen.

"They put a second fly-half with Charlie Hodgson and it gives a much harder time to decide who, as a flanker, you should go for and tackle first.

"It makes it much harder to defend."

It is a tactic Woodward has adopted again, with Catt today named in the starting line-up after his match-winning performance off the bench last week against Wales.

"I think that it's not just the number 10 we have to stop in the team - there are 15 players and we try to stop or catch all of them," said Betsen.

Much has been made of the relative back-rows after the French trio were in insatiable form against Ireland, leading a high defensive line and, offensively, playing an integral role in all four tries.

England's trio, however, have hardly had a run together after Hill's "mild" hamstring strain took over a month to recover.

The experienced, revered Saracens star, declared himself fit yesterday and Woodward had no qualms about bringing him immediately into the side.

And, according to Betsen, with good reason.

"When he comes back he will change a lot for England. He will bring organisation," said the Frenchman.

"In rugby you have a player, who when watching the match you don't see him or remember a flash of him, but he works.

"In French we say 'il travaille dans l'ombre' which means 'he works in the shadow' and in this place Hill is very, very important."

England's pack have not been the dominant force many expected, leaving Wilkinson and his backs with limited attacking ball from which to work.

The loss of Hill has been an important factor in that, just as the presence of Betsen, his fellow flanker Olivier Magne and number eight Imanol Harinordoquy have formed the crux of France's campaign.

"We have played a lot of matches together. We have played together back home since 2001 and after each match we work out why we made a mistake or did something good," said Betsen.

"Each time our coach tries to make us better.

"In France we don't play blindside and openside, there is no direct position - we play left and right.

"When you are a flanker you should be able to make a pass, run, tackle. I think it's a good thing you try to do."

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