Serge the Hitman Has England in His Sights

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Byline: PETER JACKSON

FRANCE will decide today whether to recall yet another of their old guard and let Serge Betsen loose on England in Paris on Sunday week.

The Cameroon-born hitman, who has given Jonny Wilkinson more of a battering than any other flanker on the world stage, is in line for a belated start to the Six Nations after recovering from a fractured cheekbone.

The most destructive of all French back row forwards, Betsen gave Wilkinson a severe going-over when France beat England in Paris four years ago in what was effectively a Grand Slam decider.

While another of his anaesthetising tackles during the World Cup semi-final in Sydney failed to put the Englishman out of the final, it contributed to the depressing catalogue of injuries which has dogged him ever since.

After a defeat at Murrayfield even more shocking than England's, a schizophrenic home win over Ireland and a victory over Italy after trailing at half time, the French badly need someone to cure their fragility.

Betsen, 32 on March 25, fits the bill, and also fits into coach Bernard Laporte's policy of falling back on those who thought their international careers were over.

The English-based trio of Wasps hooker Raphael Ibanez, London Irish flanker Olivier Magne and Saracens full back Thomas Castaignede have all been brought back since the Scottish debacle along with another back row forward rapidly approaching the veteran stage, 32-year-old Thomas Lievremont.

Laporte, who has picked three different back rows in the championship so far, faces the same problem as his English counterpart Andy Robinson, watching helplessly as his players put themselves through another round of club matches.

'I am very surprised by England's defeat in Scotland,' said Laporte. 'It shows that after seven months' non-stop rugby, the England players are in the same state as ours - not at their best.

'You can't have players playing for 10 months out of every 12 and expect them to perform consistently well. …