Predatory Betsen sounds warning to all

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The Independent Online

Sharks are rarely seen off the Basque coast but they have the human version at this stadium. Serge Betsen devours his prey like a shark, tearing fiercely at his victim in his relentless fight for possession.

Sharks are rarely seen off the Basque coast but they have the human version at this stadium. Serge Betsen devours his prey like a shark, tearing fiercely at his victim in his relentless fight for possession.

Watch how the French international flanker hunts too, closing in on his foe with speed and cunning. He shuts down escape routes for the ball carrier, confining his quarry in areas propitious for the Biarritz side.

Betsen's performances are consistently good enough to make him one of the world's best flank forwards. Yesterday, on a nervy, error-strewn afternoon, his enduring excellence was again instrumental in dragging his side through to victory. The only shadow was the moment when Wasps' Stuart Abbott sustained his broken leg.

Unable to hit the exalted heights they had managed at Leicester six days earlier, this time Biarritz had to labour long and hard to carve out the victory which handed them a quarter-final place.

Wasps were unable to hang on to their title partly because they could not break down the blanket defence which Biarritz strung out across the field. Key to that was Betsen, making tackles and pinning men down time and again. His all-embracing tackle allows no room for escape and frequently Wasps were denied quick possession by his work on the ground.

But Betsen is not solely a destroyer. Witness the 49th minute, when Biarritz recycled the loose ball at pace, the scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili darted to the open-side and there was Betsen in the key role of support runner. He carried the ball deep into the Wasps 22 and unloaded with precision for the wing Jimmy Marlu to score at the posts.

It proved to be the decisive act. But Wasps were not Heineken Cup and Zurich Premiership winners last May without good reason, and they fought valiantly to cling on to their crown.

They managed to score two of the four tries they needed to take the crucial bonus point, but they needed victory too and that was denied them by the constant covering and devotion to defensive duties of Betsen.

Biarritz threatened to undo all his good work when his fellow French international back-rower Imanol Harinordoquy was shown a yellow card after 53 minutes for elbowing Lawrence Dallaglio. It was as blatant as it was stupid and with Biarritz threatening to score from a driven maul, it could have cost them victory.

But Betsen simply redoubled his efforts. Equally important was the clever tactical kicking of the Biarritz half-backs, Yachvili and Damien Traille, who forced Wasps to run the ball from inside their own 22. That just played into Betsen's hands.

Betsen's performance was another timely warning to France's opponents in the forthcoming Six Nations' Championship. To beat Biarritz or France, you must first get past Betsen.

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