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What Bath make of the transfer system that this weekend sees Zach Mercer come up against his new club Montpellier

By Liam Heagney

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Bath boss Stuart Hooper doesn’t believe the transfer market in rugby needs revising despite the awkwardness of seeing his No8 Zach Mercer go into a European Challenge Cup semi-final battle on Saturday night against Montpellier, the French club he announced in February he will play for in 2021/22. 

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The 23-year-old Mercer would never have imagined this complication arising twelve weeks ago when news of his Top 14 deal was confirmed. 

At the time, the European tournaments were suspended having had their January pool matches cancelled, the all-knockout format restart for the Challenge Cup has resulted in 16 teams being cut down to four and Bath lining up to face Montpellier.

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England pair Shaunagh Brown and Dan Norton guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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England pair Shaunagh Brown and Dan Norton guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload

It’s not an unusual occurrence either. So many summer player transfers in England are announced in the preceding months, often resulted in players playing for the old clubs against the soon-to-be clubs.

The optics are messy and it has led to the suggestion that a defined transfer window, as is used in football, might help to clear up the crossover. However, Bath boss Hooper is happy with the way things are despite the Mercer situation providing an added storyline to this weekend’s last-four encounter.  

“I don’t think so, personally I don’t think so,” he said when asked if rugby needs to alter its player transfer system. “And I don’t have any worries about those guys. There is enough credibility and enough respect between us and them and them and us that they are going to play with everything they have got right up to the moment that they are no longer a Bath player. I’d like to see that remain.

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“He has been brilliant,” continued Hooper about Mercer. “That way Zach has developed over the last five, six weeks is a credit to him. He has been so focused on the team and what he can do for the team. He would be disappointed with the way he played at Wasps because he didn’t give the team what they needed so his focus coming into this week has been about how he can give his team what it needs to beat Montpellier. 

“He hasn’t looked at it from a ‘oh this is my new team’ point of view. That is something you guys [the media] will tell a story about for sure and rightly so but for him the story is about his teammates here at Bath and how he can leave them with the very best impression of him.”

When the deal with Montpellier broke earlier this year, Mercer said: “It has been a long-standing dream of mine to play in France – the game is physical and will suit my playing style. I feel like I’m able to offer the Top 14 something different and that is what I’m looking forward to. I’ve spent a huge part of my career with Bath and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities this has brought me.

“I found it impossible to say no to the offer of a long-term contract with Montpellier and I’m very grateful to have had respectful and honest conversations every step of the way with Stuart. There is a brilliant group of players and staff at Bath and I know they will go on to achieve great things together.”

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BATH: 15. Anthony Watson; 14. Joe Cokanasiga, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Cameron Redpath, 11. Will Muir; 10. Orlando Bailey, 9. Ben Spencer; 1. Juan Schoeman, 2. Tom Dunn, 3. Will Stuart, 4. Josh McNally, 5. Charlie Ewels (capt), 6. Taulupe Faletau, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Zach Mercer. Reps: 16. Jack Walker , 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Henry Thomas, 19. Elliott Stooke, 20. Josh Bayliss, 21. Miles Reid, 22. Will Chudley, 23. Max Clark.

MONTPELLIER: 15. Anthony Bouthier; 14. Julien Tisseron, 13. Johan Goosen, 12. Arthur Vincent, 11. Vincent Rattez; 10. Alex Lozowski, 9. Benoit Paillaugue; 1. Enzo Forletta, 2. Guilhem Guirado (capt), 3. Mohamed Haouas, 4. Florian Verhaeghe, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Nico Janse van Rensburg, 7. Yacouba Camara, 8. Alexandre Becognee. Reps: 16. Bismarck Du Plessis, 17. Grégory Fichten, 18. Titi Lamositele, 19. Tyler Duguid, 20. Fulgence Ouedraogo, 21. Cobus Reinach, 22. Handré Pollard, 23. Vincent Martin.

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What Bath make of the transfer system that this weekend sees Zach Mercer come up against his new club Montpellier

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