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The three fixable factors behind Eddie Jones' England stagnation

Eddie Jones' England weren't far away from making the grade.

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'Staggering, he lived the most euphoric first half of his career'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

French media have hailed the man of the match performance from Zach Mercer in Friday night’s Top 14 final win by Montpellier. The out-of-favour England No8, who hasn’t been capped by Eddie Jones since 2018, magically rounded off his first season in France with a mesmerising first-half performance, contributing to all three tries in the opening 13 minutes of his team’s fully deserved 29-10 victory.

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The soon-to-be 25-year-old quit struggling Bath last summer for an adventure across the Channel and he has ripped it up in the French league, starting in 21 of his 26 Top 14 appearances and playing a colossal 1,747 minutes. 

His latest and final display of the 2021/22 season, which helped Montpellier to its first-ever Top 14 title, was warmly embraced by the critics and an assessment on rugyrama.fr captured the hype that now surrounds Mercer

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Zach Mercer – Life in Montpellier & England Ambitions | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 30
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Zach Mercer – Life in Montpellier & England Ambitions | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 30

“The English back-rower Zach Mercer delivered a staggering performance. He was involved in all three Montpellier tries. We call it international class. He lived the most euphoric first half of his career. 

“Let’s say that this final was the most logical conclusion of an almost perfect season. Zach Mercer arrived in the off-season from Bath with a small reputation, admittedly not huge, but those who follow English rugby had glimpsed the performance of this technical and intelligent third line. 

“But from there to hover like that on the Top 14… Few No8s in our championship have as much facility to play like him. What an ability to pass the ball after contact!” His second half was a little more discreet because his team had less possession of the ball… but Philippe Saint-Andre left him on the lawn until the end.

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“He will have sent a very strong signal to Eddie Jones, the England coach who has ignored him in recent years. If we follow the principles laid down by the RFU, he would have to come back home to put on the white tunic. 

“If that were to happen with a view to the 2023 World Cup, it would be heartbreaking for the Top 14 spectators and for the Saint-André-Mohed Altrad duo who believed in him and who put in the means to bring him to Montpellier. Let’s dare to mention Zach Mercer among the best of the MHR recruitment. Some more prestigious names did not have the same performance.”

Mercer said post-game: “It’s extraordinary. I can’t express my feelings but this group is fantastic. I’m really very proud to be part of it. When we were leading by 20 points I said to myself that it was dangerous, we had to do very be careful not to get distracted, but after 20 minutes we had played so well. We really wanted to bring this trophy back to Montpellier.”

Mercer joined Montpellier on a two-year deal with the option of a third year and the only possible loophole that might get him into the England World Cup squad while not at a Gallagher Premiership club could be if he signed a pre-contract to return to the English club game in 2023/24, presenting Jones with the opportunity to select him for the finals in France on the basis that he was committed to coming home following the tournament.  

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