With two test caps, over half a century of Premiership outings, and a multitude of accolades as a junior international, Zach Mercer has had an impressive start to his career.
The 21-year-old loose forward represented England at U18 and U20 levels since joining Bath in 2015, captaining the U20 side in 2017 as he led them to an U20 Six Nations grand slam and an U20 World Championship final appearance.
His performances were enough to earn himself a nomination for Wold Junior Player of the Year, and has gone on to build his reputation in the Premiership with Bath under the guidance of director of rugby Todd Blackadder.
After 57 appearances in the Premiership, Mercer has done enough to earn a couple of test caps for England, making his debut against South Africa at Twickenham last year.
While he still remains on the fringes of the England national set-up, Mercer told SCRUM that he’s gunning for further appearances after being left out of this year’s Six Nations squad.
“I had a good conversation with Eddie and he’s told me what I need to work on and the things that he wants to see me do for Bath,” he said.
“I’ve obviously got an eye on the World Cup at the end of the year so if I do get another opportunity in camp with the boys, I’ll try to put my hand up for another shot in an England jersey.”
Challenging for a spot in the England test squad may not have been the case, though.
Prior to signing for Bath four years ago, Mercer was initially in the Scotland system, representing the country of which he’d moved to at the age of eight at a youth level while plying his trade in the Glasgow Warriors academy.
However, after starring for Scotland’s U16 side, the Leeds-born flanker was omitted from the U18 squad, with his commitment to the game in England rather than Scotland cited as the reason for his dismissal.
“I grew up in Scotland and I qualified to play on residency so that’s what I did,” Mercer said.
“I played for Scotland’s U16s because, at the time, I just wanted to play international rugby and to test myself against the best.
“I tried to get into the Scotland U18s a year early but I didn’t get selected. The next year came around and I was gunning to play [for Scotland U18s]. Around the same time, I was looking at some different contracts and that’s when Bath offered me one. When you’re offered a contract by a team like that, you’d be stupid to turn it down so, of course, I accepted it.
“Unfortunately, that was when the coach of the Scotland U18s called me and told me he wasn’t going to pick me because I hadn’t committed to Scotland and to Scottish rugby.
“I remember that day pretty well, because, 20 minutes later, when I told the England U18s head coach I hadn’t been picked, he just said: ‘Come down and play for us then’.”
“After that, my first game for England U18s was against Scotland. Honestly, you couldn’t write it.”
Mercer still remains professional about the situation four years on, refusing to hold any grudges against Scotland, instead viewing the situation as part and parcel of professional sport.
“I haven’t looked back since because sometimes, you’ve just got to look after yourself,” he said.
But I’ve got to give the Scottish system credit for helping me out in the early years with physio, S&C [strength and conditioning] and the nutrition side of things.”
“I’ve always wanted to play for England though so when that opportunity came, I couldn’t turn it down.”
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