“French rugby is brutal, but how can you not love it? “, says Montpellier Englishman Zach Mercer

Become champion of France your first season …

Becoming French champion your first season in the Top 14 is a dream scenario. Do you realize that?

Yes, it’s crazy. It will take me a while to realize what we have achieved with this group. This is exceptional. Ask me again in a week. When I arrived in France, I thought the European Cup was the most important trophy and then I understood what this title represented and especially for guys like Guilhem (Guirado) Fufu (Ouedraogo), Kylian (Galletier) who are finishing the his career, by Benoît (Paillaugue) who leaves the club. I can’t thank them enough for the way they helped guide me.

What did you think when you led 17-0 after less than a quarter of an hour?

That was possibly dangerous. Toulouse was a bit in the same position last week. This is what I told Guilhem when we met in a circle: we need to “change” right away. It’s a situation you want to be in and at the same time you go from hunter to hunter. But those first twenty minutes were really good, probably our best start to the season. I really liked how we approached the semi-final and the final as disadvantaged to finish the trophy.

You came out unscathed from the very long defensive streak that the Castres imposed on you at the start of the second half. Is this the second turning point of the match?

We knew the first few minutes of the second half would be crucial. We prevented them from scoring twice when they were in goal. We fought, we repelled them. If we had broken even once at that time, we could have been in danger. But we did not give in. Defense is what wins games. This was the case of Castres and Bordeaux.

What does the Brennus shield mean to you?

I’ll have to go sit next to her in the locker room. That I look at it well with the name of Montpellier engraved for the first time. And give me a moment to reflect on what the team has achieved and what I have personally achieved.

Are you thinking of borrowing it for your wedding next week in England?

Maybe I’ll ask your permission. No, seriously, there are guys who deserve it a lot more than me than like Guilhem or like Fufu who fought for this club for I don’t know how many years.

It’s funny because six months ago I told my girlfriend I had never won anything.

Montpellier has given the image of a united group this season. This has not always been the case in the past.

We started by just winning two games and drawing in the first seven days and we had what I call a first crisis meeting. And then we won at Racing and had ten wins in a row. The bonds have become stronger. We have become friends.

But before the final, Philippe Saint-André told us: “boys, if you win this final, you will no longer be friends, you will be members of the same family. Thirty years from now, you’ll remember it. Like I said, I have to take stock of all this, but I definitely made the right decision coming to France. I am very proud. I know Montpellier had a bad reputation. But we are changing that. There are no barriers. You know that when I go to sit next to Mohamed Haouas at breakfast, he doesn’t speak a word of English but we get to laugh and make fun of each other. And that is what this group has built and the credit goes to Philippe (Saint-André). Next year we will be there to play in the big leagues.

What role did Philippe Saint-André play in your success?

He came looking for me. He believed in me. He told the president. He gave me his confidence. I can’t thank you enough. When I see his reaction to the final whistle, I realize what this title means to him. Last year the club struggled to avoid relegation. This year we have made it to the quarter-finals of the European Cup and have won the Top 14. Although we are losing players. Philippe is a smart guy. He said, “Zach, we know what you can bring us.” Whether Philippe, Jean-Ba (Elissalde) or Z (Azam). It lets me do what I know how to do.

After six years in Bath, what comparisons do you make with the French championship?

French rugby is really brutal. Whoever your opponent is, it’s tough. Even if you play in Biarritz, if you are not prepared, you suffer physical abuse. I have played 33 games this season. You would never see it in England. It is hard for the body. But I loved it. How can you not love yourself when you see a vibration like tonight? It’s funny because six months ago, I told my girlfriend I had never won anything, so being champion of France for the first time in Montpellier history is very special.

Eddie Jones came to see you recently. Have you given up the England selection?

In fact, I met Eddie before the European Cup final in Marseille. I was honest with him. I told him I was fine in Montpellier. That I was here to win trophies and grow as a player. I haven’t given up on my international ambitions, but at the moment I can’t play in England as I am in France. I made that sacrifice.

Leave a Comment