Greatest XV Profile: Serge Betsen

Widely regarded as one of the best flankers to have ever graced rugby union, France legend Serge Betsen sent shivers down the spines of opposition defences throughout a fruitful, ten-year Test career.

Widely regarded as one of the best flankers to have ever graced rugby union, France legend Serge Betsen sent shivers down the spines of opposition defences throughout a fruitful, ten-year Test career.

The 46-year-old built up a reputation as one of the most fearsome back-rowers in the northern hemisphere, with his fierce tackling and unparalleled work-rate contributing towards one of the most successful periods in Les Bleus’ history.

A total of 63 Test appearances for France – and 30 in the Six Nations – yielded multiple Championship titles including two Grand Slams in 2002 and 2004.

While France’s Six Nations success could not be replicated on the Rugby World Cup stage, the Cameroon-born star came within touching distance of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup on two occasions, falling at the semi-final hurdle in both 2003 and 2007.

Alongside his international honours, ‘The Grim Reaper’ won multiple French Championship titles with Biarritz Olympique, before making over 75 appearances for English side Wasps following his retirement from the France national team.

Betsen’s influence in all the teams he played for grew myriad plaudits – from coaches, teammates and opposition alike – including a telling tribute from Welsh back-rower Martyn Williams in 2005.

He said: “He’s simply indestructible, and he’s the best No. 7 in the world.

“He’s so strong and very bold on the ball. He does so much of the dirty work for his side. He roams around everywhere on the field and he’s a difficult man to take out.”

To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can create your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players, including Betsen

With a warrior-like attitude and a fear factor on the field combined with a supreme will to win, Betsen undoubtedly makes a strong argument to be included in the Greatest XV.


Born in Kumba, Cameroon, Betsen moved to France at the age of nine and got his first taste of rugby three years later, with local club Clichy la Garenne in the Paris suburb where he lived.

Having made waves at grassroots level, Biarritz came knocking when Betsen was 17, and his prowess on both sides of the scrum, his fearless tackling and unwavering ball-carrying ability soon alerted the attention of the national team.

Three days shy of his 23rd birthday, Betsen made his France first-team debut as a replacement in a 40-32 defeat to Italy in Grenoble, but despite his rapid progress thus far, he was forced to wait almost three years for a second Test cap.

Following his Six Nations bow in a 36-3 win over Wales in Cardiff in 2000, however, Betsen established himself as an integral component of Bernard Laporte’s team as they worked their way back to former glories.


Betsen started all five of France’s 2002 Six Nations matches, dotting down in their tournament opener against Italy before contributing ten points in a thumping 44-5 win over Ireland that sealed their first Grand Slam since 1998.

Besides those crucial scores, Betsen’s finest moment during that campaign came during the Round 3, 20-15 victory over defending champions England, with his relentless man-marking of Jonny Wilkinson earning high praise from Red Rose head coach Clive Woodward.

Woodward said: “He is the only player that I can say was the single-handed reason we lost a match.”

The following year England got their own back by knocking out France in the World Cup semi-finals on their way to the title, but in 2004 Betsen enjoyed his latest taste of success, starting all five matches as Laporte’s men claimed their second Grand Slam in three years.


Besten missed out on another Six Nations-winning campaign in 2006, but returned a year later to sign off from the international scene in style.

Starting all five of France’s matches – which yielded four wins and a solitary defeat to England – Betsen completed 56 tackles, 12 more than any other player in the tournament.

Later that year he again tasted semi-final heartbreak at the Rugby World Cup, before calling time on his national team career in January 2008.

While initially intent on hanging up his boots for good at the end of the season, Betsen was persuaded to join English Premiership side Wasps – where he stayed for three years – further cementing his reputation as one of the best players to have ever pulled on the famous blue jersey.