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'Everyone thinks the French teams don't care about Europe, but we do'

By PA
Zach Mercer of Montpellier cools himself down with water during the Heineken Champions Cup match between Montpellier Herault Rugby and Harlequins at GGL Stadium (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Montpellier No.8 Zach Mercer says his side will savour their 40-26 win over Harlequins in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie Heineken Champions Cup.

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The English champions were in deep trouble when they found themselves trailing 34-0 eight minutes into the second half having conceded five tries.

But a four-try fightback eventually reduced the deficit to 14 points heading into the return match at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.

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Former England number eight Mercer was named as the star of the match for his two-try contribution.

He cannot wait to get back onto English soil next weekend and give another reminder to national team head coach Eddie Jones of his all-round skills.

“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,” said Mercer.

“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.

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“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.”

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Former Northampton and South Africa scrum-half Cobus Reinach was among the first-half try-scorers for Montpellier and he wants his team to be more ruthless in London on Saturday.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson insists his side still believe they can advance to the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.

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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 half-way 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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