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Spurned England No8 Zach Mercer linked with Top 14 U-turn - report

By Josh Raisey
Gloucester's Zach Mercer during the Premiership Rugby Cup Semi Final match between Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium on February 17, 2024 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

After only signing for Gloucester at the beginning of the season from Montpellier, No8 Zach Mercer is already attracting the interest of several Top 14 clubs over a possible return next season.

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According to a report in Midi OlympiqueRacing 92, Toulon and his former club Montpellier are all looking into signing the 26-year-old.

This comes after the former Top 14 player of the season missed out on the England A squad that will take on Portugal on Sunday at Welford Road.

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Handre Pollard on that RWC semifinal and Pieter-Steph du Toit’s inspiring speech – Big Jim Show | RPTV

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Handre Pollard on that RWC semifinal and Pieter-Steph du Toit’s inspiring speech – Big Jim Show | RPTV

Mercer returned to Gloucester at the end of last season with the aim of making England’s World Cup squad and was tipped by many to do so. However, he was a shock omission from Steve Borthwick’s initial 41-player training squad. His exile continued this Guinness Six Nations, and his exclusion from the England A squad was a further damaging blow.

Given his history in the Top 14 – not only being named player of the season in 2022, but also winning the title that year – it is unsurprising so many clubs in France are interested in the two-cap England international.

After signing a long-term deal with Gloucester, any potential buyer would have to pay a hefty fee to recruit Mercer. With wage constraints already being an issue for Racing 92 with the arrival of Owen Farrell, the report says the Parisian club are unlikely to pursue him. It also says that Toulon already have enough options in the back row.

Mercer gave no indication that he was ready to leave the Cherry and Whites on Saturday despite his England struggles, as he put in a player of the match performance in their win over the Exeter Chiefs to book their place in the Premiership Rugby Cup final.

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The No8 earned the last of his two caps in November 2018 as a 21-year-old.

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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