Pedro Bettencourt: Top 14 vs Premiership, backing Arundell's decision and why the rugby calendar needs to aid Tier 2 Nations

Pedro Bettencourt was one of Portugal's stars at the Rugby World Cup
©Pauline Ballet - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

Pedro Bettencourt was one of the main stars for the “Lobos” in the 2023 Men’s Rugby World Cup, helping his country land their first-ever win in the most coveted rugby tournament of them all. 

Born and raised in CDUP (Porto), the utility back first played in France before earning a stint in the Premiership. In 2018, he signed for Newcastle Falcons and featured in 11 games for the Kingston Park side, before leaving to sign for Oyonnax in Pro D2.

In 13 years as a senior player, Bettencourt has experienced it all; From the World Cup to European competition as well as the top leagues in France and England.

“Well, you make acquaintances and friends at every club you play and my time in the Falcons was no different,” he tells TRU. “There were a good couple of guys who helped and were also role models, like Mark Wilson. He was simply outstanding as a leader and athlete.

“I don’t miss… the English food, to be honest, but I was very fond of how rugby was played in England at the time! I learned a ton while playing for the Falcons and honed what are my main skills, and that has helped me in my career. I’m not a Fijian that can step four or five players in a glimpse, as I am more of a tactical player and the general style of play in England adapts better to my skills.

“I think the Premiership has more of a tactical and structured type of gameplay, relying less on what a single player can do. Of course, it all depends on what team we are talking about, but when you compare Saracens and Toulouse, you see that the former score points thanks to a team effort, while the latter have units with the x-factor.

“In my opinion, the Premiership has lost a bit of its edge to the Top14, due to the financial instability and some of the biggest clubs going under or collapsing. A lot of English players have left the Premiership to come to France and that's a worrying factor for the future.”

Henry Arundell was one of the latest English stars to opt for a career in France rather than staying in England. Bettencourt gave his honest opinion of why the eloquent outside back chose to extend his stay with Racing 92.

“I don’t know Henry Arundell personally, but I do understand his decision. Look, first, his club in England went bankrupt which forced him to find a viable and good option, be it sports or money-wise,” Bettencourt says.

“Racing came in, and maybe it was the only choice available and [Stuart] Lancaster as a coach might’ve also helped. The Premiership went from 13 clubs to 10. There are a lot fewer opportunities, and the salaries aren’t what they used to be. He is young and will have time to get back in the England squad in the future. I don’t think it is the end. People need to understand the choices a player has to make to have a stable life and enjoyable career."

Bettencourt has made a career in France after leaving the Newcastle Falcons, collecting a total of 65 games for Oyonnax. He helped the club win promotion in 2023 and has already scored a try in the Top 14.

“Our goal at [Oyonnax] is to avoid relegation and do an excellent season. It’s going to be a very competitive year ahead of us,” Bettencourt adds.

“[The] Top 14 ambience and environment is just addictive. The stadium is packed every weekend. We play against the best in the world and it is just fireworks from start to finish.

“I would love to win a Top 14 or Premiership someday, be it in Oyonnax or elsewhere, and play in the EPCR Champions Cup, as I did for the Falcons. As for Portugal, I just want to help my country for the 2027 Rugby World Cup with no hiccups.”

Bettencourt was massive in Portugal’s great run in 2023, helping the “Lobos” to finish second in the Rugby Europe Championship. He then played a vital role in their victory against Fiji in the World Cup pool stages but juggling life as a club and Test match player isn’t easy, and he shed some light on it.

“It’s like any other job. You can’t just leave your job and hope when you come back everything is the same. I missed six months of my club time, and that can affect a future contract, which I understand.

“I missed several games for Oyonnax while playing for Portugal in 2023, and it wasn’t easy to deal with it. The calendar doesn’t help. If it was tweaked just a bit, it could make a huge difference for players of the Tier 2 nations.

“One of the biggest issues with our unions is the lack of structure. You need the best available people to grow and go big. Some unions have a patron behind it that helps flow cash. Most don’t and it hinders the overall success.

“Some teams can’t call [on] their top squads due to club commitments, and we see the outcome when Tier 2 nations lose by a big margin against the top sides. We need more games but we need a calendar that protects us, the players.”

Thinking about the future, the Portuguese international is focused on Oyonnax but one never knows what might be the next step in his career.

“As I’ve already stated, my first worry and focus is to help Oyonnax. We want to be successful in the Top 14. That’s my primary goal and I’m not thinking about moving away. I loved my time in Newcastle, and I might want to have a second chance to play in England, but I can’t be sure when and if it will ever happen. I can only have an opinion when all real options are on the table.”