Serge Betsen: Defeat to Munster was one of the great frustrations of my career

Serge Betsen enjoyed many momentous days playing for France: Six Nations Grand Slams, Top 14 titles, World Cup semi-finals. But something still rankles: The 2006 Heineken Cup final defeat to Munster, and that try by Peter Stringer.

Serge Betsen: Defeat to Munster was one of the great frustrations of my career

The scrum-half nipped home on Betsen’s side, helping the province to finally reach their holy grail.

Betsen never got his hands on that trophy, but made up for it with Top14 success two weeks later with Biarritz, in a victory for positive thinking — something he now shares with others in sport and business, in his career as a motivational speaker and consultant

Q. You were part of the most successful France team of all time — can you believe it’s now eight years since they won a Six Nations title?

A. It feels like a really long time ago now. Time flies and you need to reinvent yourself, as a team to keep up to date with the game... it seems we are still unsure of what French rugby is about.

Q: You were a fan of Guy Noves’ appointment, was it the right decision to sack him?

A. No. I don’t think they should have sacked him. He brought a lot of confidence to players. Maybe I wasn’t in the team to see what went wrong or not, so I don’t want to judge — but the reality is whatever coach is in charge, they need time to put in place a philosophy of play, to organise their management team.

It’s very difficult to perform in a short period, you need to invest in people. It’s not just about winning the game, and then saying everything is perfect, it’s more than that, it’s about how people are working within the clubs, with the federation.

Q. There’s more money in France than any other league, is that a good or a bad thing?

A. I think it’s in a good place because my sport is only new in professional terms — so we need to learn from other sports. We need to take ideas on board and keep an open mind to see how people run things in other sports like football.

For me, that’s missing a bit. Sometimes we can blame players when things go wrong, but we (as a league) also need to look at ourselves, and put everything in place to make life better for the players.

Q. When you played in the 2006 Heineken Cup final, Biarritz had just three foreign players — is that what you’d like to see again rather than the massive influx of overseas talent?

A. We’re not really helping youngsters develop through the clubs in France anymore, but the Top 14 is putting in place some new systems to help improve the amount of young talent from France that gets a chance.

I think the young French players will develop and break through professionally, and then hopefully succeed in the French team. Something needed to change as we were shooting ourselves in the foot, by not working together.

Q. Back to 2006, you must hate Munster?

A. Oh, that defeat to Munster was one of the great frustrations of my career that I couldn’t handle that trophy. But we reached that final and were in the Top14 final two weeks later, and I have to say that defeat to Munster helped us in the end.

I used that defeat to prepare my teammates for the second final against Toulouse. We worked a lot together that situation, to turn that disappointment into excitement for the other final. I’m really proud of how we used that mindset.

Q. What did you think of that Munster team?

A. I think we realised it was the third final for them, they won at the third time, and that was something to think of. When you get frustrated like that you can use it as a challenge to yourself and then anything can happen. Munster were patient, it was just a matter of time before they won.

I was so frustrated for the try though... Stringer’s try, as it came on my side. That’s one of the reasons I was so upset. It was one of the easiest tries we gave to our opponents. I always talk about that in work, in speeches — it was about missed communication.

It cost us a lot. When you review the try you can see clearly there was missed communication between myself and my winger. He left his side without telling me he was going, and that created the gap... Stringer saw it on a big screen! It was very unfortunate.

Q. Anthony Foley was Munster’s captain that day, what was he like as an opponent?

A. He was one of the legends of the game, a very, very powerful ball carrier. I remember him as a great opponent. I had a lot of respect for him, and he was always there to challenge and dominate you.

It was really sad to hear what happened, that he’s not with us anymore, I always respected this guy as a player.

Q. We’ve spoken of the bad memories of 2006, but what’s the highlight of a career that had many more ups than downs?

A. I have to say it was a pleasure just to play at such a high level for Biarritz in the first team. Then I was lucky to play for France, to have that amazing adventure.

We won four trophies with Biarritz, even if we didn’t manage to win the Heineken Cup, then I won two Grand Slams with France, five times we won the tournament, then I played in two World Cup semi-finals.

They’re all amazing memories, and I’ve to congratulate my teammates, and even opponents for being part of it all. This sport gave me a lot of belief, made me learn what team sport is about. I was really privileged to be part of that amazing journey.

French legend Serge Betsen was in Ireland as a guest of Heineken Rugby

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