Zach Mercer: Montpellier’s performance ‘proved French teams care’ about Champions Cup

Colin Newboult

2HAP23E Montpellier's Zach Mercer during the Heineken Champions Cup match at Sandy Park, Exeter. Picture date: Saturday December 11, 2021.

Montpellier number eight Zach Mercer believes that their performance against Harlequins shows the team’s passion for the Champions Cup, but admits there is still a job to do in the second leg.

Philippe Saint-Andre’s men were outstanding on Sunday, racing into a 34-0 lead thanks to a brace of tries via Mercer and a score apiece from Gabriel Ngandebe, Cobus Reinach and Titi Lamositele.

The French have sometimes been accused of disregarding European competition, with the Top 14 seen as the much bigger prize, but that was not the case at GGL Stadium.

Although Harlequins responded well, touching down through George Hammond, Andre Esterhuizen, Joe Marchant and Louis Lynagh, the Frenchmen are still in a dominant position.

Mercer knows the Quins threat well having played for Bath prior to joining Montpellier but is aiming to complete the job next weekend.

Written off in pool stages

“It is always good to play against some familiar faces in a different competition. Everyone thinks the French teams don’t care about Europe, but we do and we proved that today,” he said.

“Everyone wrote us off after the Leinster result. We will enjoy this win, but we’ve got to go away next week and we know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.

“It was frustrating watching the end of the game, but Harlequins have got a reputation and they came back and scored some points.

“We’ll just have to do the same next week and try to score 34 points in the first half.

“We’ve got a lot to improve on, but we’ll certainly take scoring 40 points against the English champions.”

Scrum-half Reinach echoed Mercer’s frustrations over the second half display but is confident they can rectify it when they face Quins in the second leg.

“We certainly haven’t done enough. We gave ourselves a good cushion until half-time but then we went away from our game plan, out of our shape and out of our DNA and that cost us in the end,” he said.

“The talking point of the week for us will be how we went 34 points up and then allowed them to come back. We had our foot on the throat and we should have kept it there.

“We needed to keep suffocating them, but we didn’t. We let go at the end, but we will fix it.”

Montpellier go into the decider as clear favourites but there are reasons for Quins to be optimistic considering the position they were in.

Head coach of the Londoners, Tabai Matson, was unhappy with their performance in the opening 40 minutes but insisted that they did enough after the break to remain in Champions Cup contention.

Matson said: “We were well off the pace in the first half. We had enough ball and opportunities, but they really punished us.

“After half-time it was really all about getting some points on the board.

“To be down 14-0 at home in the second leg is probably not a bad result on the back of where we were.

“I’m trying to be optimistic, but we are only halfway and there is absolutely a belief that we can pull a rabbit out of the hat next week.

“Their defence was exceptional, but we missed opportunities to kick and put some more variation into our game. Even at the end of the game our breakdown was well off the pace.

“Those things will be a massive focus this week in particular. If that’s the case, hopefully we can put them under more pressure.

“When the game opened up we found some opportunities. They don’t let you open up so that will be our challenge.”

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