Ex-Bath duo on cusp of Top 14 glory along with benched Pollard
Two former Bath players – Zach Mercer and Henry Thomas – are on the verge of Top 14 glory in their first season at Montpellier after quitting the Gallagher Premiership strugglers. Both forwards were involved when their English club were beaten 19-10 at The Rec by the French in a Challenge Cup semi-final in May 2021.
Montpellier went on to win that tournament, defeating Leicester in the Twickenham final, and a year later Philippe Saint-Andre’s side is now just 80 minutes away from clinching a first-ever Top 14 title when they play Castres in the 2022 decider at Stade de France on Friday night.
Alex Lozowski provided the English intertest at Montpellier last season, spending 2020/21 on loan at the club while Saracens were enduring their Championship season. But the English focus is now very much on Mercer, the soon-to-be 25-year-old No8, and his fellow ex-England international Thomas, the tighthead who will be 31 in October.
Mercer has been supreme in his first season in France, making 26 Top 14 appearances and reminding everyone in England of his fabulous talent when starring in the two-legged Champions Cup round of 16 win for Montpellier over Harlequins.
Thomas, meanwhile, has made 17 league appearances but just four of those games have been as a starter in contrast to Mercer who has made 21 Top 14 starts.
The No8 will start again at the Stade de France, with Thomas on the bench where he will have Handre Pollard, the 2019 Springboks World Cup winner, for company as Saint-Andre has opted to again start Italian Paolo Garbisi at out-half following last Saturday’s semi-final win over Bordeaux in Nice. The previous night at the same ground, Castres dethroned title holders Toulouse and their fixture with Montpellier is a repeat of the 2018 final that they won 29-13. Both teams have named benches with a five-forwards/three-backs split.
CASTRES: 15. Dumora ; 14. Palis , 13. Combezou , 12. Botitu, 11. Nakosi; 10. Urdapiletta, 9. Arata; 7. Champion de Crespigny, 8. Ben-Nicholas, 6. Babillot (capt), 5. Staniforth , 4. Vanverberghe, 3. Hounkpatin, 2. Barlot, 1. Walcker. Reps: 16. Ngauamo, 17. De Benedittis, 18. Jacquet , 19. Delaporte, 20. Fernandez, 21. Cocagi, 22. Zeghdar, 23. Chilachava
MONTPELLIER: 15. Bouthier; 14. Vincent, 13. Doumayrou , 12. Serfontein, 11. Rattez; 10. Garbisi, 9. Paillaugue; 7. Camara (capt), 8. Mercer, 6. Becognee, 5. Chalureau , 4. Verhaeghe, 3. Haouas, 2. Guirado, 1. Lamositele. Reps: 16. Paenga-Amosa, 17. Forletta, 18. Capelli, 19. Janse van Rensburg, 20. Aprasidze, 21. Pollard, 22. Ngandebe, 23. Thomas
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