Gloucester will lose Mercier to Grenoble
Tuesday 06 May 2003
Poor old Gloucester. Currently labouring under the title of "champions without a championship" thanks to the iniquities of the Premiership play-off system, they will soon find themselves without an outside-half into the bargain.
Ludovic Mercier, recruited from Aurillac by Philippe Saint-André a couple of seasons ago and the accumulator of well over 600 points in next to no time, will return to France this summer to spearhead Grenoble's challenge for domestic honours next term. His fellow countryman, the hooker Olivier Azam, is also set to leave the club, with Castres leading the race for his signature.
Nigel Melville, the director of rugby at Kingsholm, has resigned himself to a mini-exodus following months of financial uncertainty, redundancies among the back-room staff and talk of pay cuts among the playing squad. Some players are owed thousands of pounds in bonuses. Mercier, a world-class goal-kicker, was never likely to be short of lucrative offers from his homeland, where the professional clubs are blissfully unrestricted by a salary cap. Neither was Azam, a strong candidate for World Cup duty this autumn.
Grenoble are in an ambitious frame of mind. Promoted last season, they beat the powerful Montferrand to a place in the end-of-term play-offs and still have a puncher's chance of qualifying for the 2003-04 Heineken Cup. With Mercier on board – he watched their match against Agen at the weekend and has signed for two years – and largely affected by World Cup call-ups, they will fancy their prospects of progress.
Should Azam agree terms with Castres, who have had a rough time of it since losing a Heineken Cup semi-final to Munster last spring, he will replace the former national captain Raphael Ibanez in the middle of the front row. Ibanez is being pursued by both Leicester and Harlequins – Leicester's first-choice hooker, Dorian West, is nearing the end of the road, while Quins have already waved farewell to the inspirational Keith Wood – and is believed to favour a spell in England after World Cup duty in Australia.
Whatever the extent of Gloucester's problems, there is a greater feeling of alarm elsewhere in the West Country. The prospective merger between Bath and Bristol, two of the Premiership's bottom three, has prompted a gathering of the clans, with petitions being posted on a variety of websites. Significantly, though, members of the official Bath supporters' club have yet to declare their hand – a sign, perhaps, of their concern at Bath's three-point deficit at the foot of the table.
Paul Scholes: Manchester United vs Liverpool - I don't understand why Brendan Rodgers was not more attacking against Basel
Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea - that's what one in five children thinks
Transfer Talk: Nemanja Vidic to return to Manchester United; Hazard to leave Chelsea; Sunderland want Radamel Falcao
Frank Warren column: Don't bet on Amir Khan landing pay day against Floyd Mayweather
Manchester United transfer news: Kevin Strootman move edges closer
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food