Zach Mercer in France: 'There are some absolute mutants out here'
Overlooked by Eddie Jones’ England in recent years, the former U20s Grand Slam-winning captain surprised many when he – then aged twenty-three – made the decision to up sticks and leave Bath, the only club he had ever called home as a professional player, for Montpellier Herault in the south of France.
Despite standing 6’3 and tipping the scales at 111kg, critics would oft cite a perceived lack of bulk as hindering his path to the top and it’s an unwarranted tag that he is desperate to shake off.
In an in-depth interview with Jamie Lyall in TheXV.rugby, Mercer says references to his athletic frame had started to wear thin and he’s ready to prove people wrong in a league in which mass monsters are ten a penny.
“I’ve always been questioned about my size and physicality and to be honest it’s starting to pee me off,” he says. “When people speak about you like that, it’s a challenge, it encourages you to prove these guys wrong. And that’s another reason I’m here.
“If you watch the last two games [in the Top 14], it shows I can cope with it. There are some absolute mutants out here and I enjoy that challenge of facing someone massive. It’s a massively physical league and you don’t appreciate that until you’re in it. We had Toulon away, with their crowd, lining up against Sergio Parisse – you could easily go back in your shell. You’ve got to embrace it.
“Every week you’re playing against an international back row. I’m surrounded in training by guys like (21st 3lb) Paul Willemse and (19st 9lb) Bastien Chalureau. That’s why I’m excited to see what I’m going to be like by the end of my time here.
“I want to come back to England a better player for the experience and more resilient as well. I’ve still got a lot to improve on. I love it.”
Mercer says he’s not given up on representing England again and adding to his two caps, although he acknowledges that he’s been leapfrogged in the pecking order by the likes of Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt and Ben Earl.
“Sam Simmonds is a world-class player who thoroughly deserved to be on the Lions tour,” says Mercer. “The last year, all I kept hearing was his name, Alex Dombrandt’s name, Ben Earl’s name. These guys are world-class players, but I feel like once I announced I was leaving, that was it for me.
“Obviously I don’t want people to talk about me all the time, but I don’t want them to forget I exist and I do have aspirations to play for my country again. I’m not giving up on that.”
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