August 16, 2022

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“French rugby is brutal but how can you not like it?”, Montpellier assures Sock Mercer’s Englishman

Become the French Champion in your first season …

Becoming a French champion in your first season in the Top 14 is a dream come true. Do you feel

Yes, it’s crazy. It will take me a while to realize what we have achieved in this group. This is the exception. Ask me again in a week. When I came to France, I thought the European Cup was the most important trophy, and then I realized that this degree was mainly for people like Gilhelm (Guerrero), Fufu (Oudergo), and Kylian (Galtire) who were finishing their careers. Paillaugue leaving the club. I can not thank them enough for the way they helped me find my bearings.

What did you think when you took a 17-0 lead in less than a quarter of an hour?

That it can be dangerous. Toulouse was in a similar position last week. That’s what I said when I gathered in a circle with Gilheim: we must “switch” right away. This is a situation where you want to be and at the same time you are going to hunt from the hunter. But those first twenty minutes were pretty good, which may be our best start to the season. I really liked the way we approached the semifinals and finals as the losers and finished with the trophy.

At the start of the second half you emerged unscathed from the very long defensive series that Castress imposed on you. Is this the second turning point in the competition?

We knew the first minutes of the second half would be crucial. We prevented them from scoring twice while they were in-goal. We fought and chased them. If there had been a crack at least once during that time we would have been in danger. But we did not give up. Defensive wins in games. It was against Castress and against Bordeaux.

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What does the armor of Brennan mean to you?

I had to go and sit next to him in the locker room. I see very well that for the first time the name Montpellier is engraved. I will reflect for a moment on measuring what the team has achieved and what I have personally achieved.

Are you thinking of borrowing money for your wedding in the UK next week?

Maybe I should ask permission. No, seriously, there are more deserving guys than me like people like Gilhem or Fufu, I do not know how many years they fought for this club.

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

Montpellier gave the United team a picture this season. In the past this was not always the case.

The first seven days we started by winning and balancing two games, which I called the first crisis encounter. Then we won the race and we had ten wins in a row. Bonds are strengthened. We became friends.

But before the final, Philip Saint-Andre told us: “Friends, if you win this final, you will no longer be friends, you will belong to the same family. In thirty years, you will remember it. Like I said, I had to measure all of this, but I came to France and made the right decision. I’m really proud. I know Montpellier had a bad reputation. But we are changing it. There are no restrictions. When I go to sit next to Mohamed Howas during breakfast, he will not speak a word in English, but we will manage to laugh and make fun of each other. That is what this group created, and its glory goes to Philip (Saint-Andre). We will play in the big league next year.

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What role did Philip Saint-Andre play in your success?

He came to pick me up. He trusted me. Told the President. He gave me hope. I can not thank him enough. Looking at the reaction he gave to the final whistle, I realize what this title means to him. Last year the club struggled to avoid expulsion. We went to the quarterfinals of the European Cup this year and won the first 14 places. Even if the players lose. Philip is a smart guy. He said to me, “Zack, we know what you can bring us.” Philip, Jean-Ba (Elisalde) or Z (Assam). He allows me to do what I know.

After six years in the bath, how do you compare to the French Championship?

French rugby is really terrible. No matter who your enemy is, it’s hard. Even if you play in the Fearits, if you are not ready, you will be subjected to physical abuse. I have played in 33 matches this season. You will never see this in the UK. Illness is difficult. But I loved it. How can you not like it when you see a vibe like tonight? It’s funny, because six months ago, I told my girlfriend I had never won anything, so becoming the French champion for the first time in Montpellier’s history was very special.

Eddie Jones came to see you recently. Did you leave the England team?

I actually met Eddie before the European Cup final in Marseille. I was honest with him. I said I was fine in Montpellier. I’m here to win trophies and grow as a player. I have not given up on my international ambitions but can not currently play for England as I am in France. I made this sacrifice.

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