Talented back-rower Zach Mercer took a huge step towards his goal of becoming a senior international when being named as an apprentice in the England party for the Old Mutual Wealth series in the autumn of 2017. It also involved training with the squad in Portugal and pre-match preparation.
So impressed was Eddie Jones by the Bath Rugby star that a couple of months later, he had shed the apprentice tag and was named as a full-fledged squad member for the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations, despite still only being 20 years of age.
The promise of Mercer was initially evident when he became player of the tournament while wearing Merchiston Castle School’s colours at the St Joseph’s Festival in the autumn of 2014. Leeds-born Zach won caps for Scotland at U16 and U17 level before his inclusion in the England U18 squad and his debut against Scotland at Newcastle in March 2015. He started all three matches in the Rugby Europe U18 Championship in France the same month, scoring two tries against Portugal and another against Italy in the Bronze final.
Zach went on to play in four U20 games in the 2016 RBS 6 Nations Championship. His immense performance that included an important late try in the 37-21 defeat of Wales in the 2017 tournament earned him the man of the match award. It was the first time that the hosts had been beaten at Colwyn Bay in three years. He captained the side, leading by example and scoring a try with a diagonal run off the base of the scrum in the next game that brought a 46-0 win over Italy in Darlington.
A fortnight later, he scored the bonus-point try against Scotland that clinched the title. Zach again led the side in the 14-10 win over Ireland that secured the 2017 Grand Slam, having started every game. He said after the victory at Donnybrook: “We showed a huge amount of belief in the way we performed. We were resilient. Ireland put us under pressure but I knew we would pull through because the team has that confidence.”
In June 2017, he inspired England to reach the World U20 Championship final in which they were runners-up to New Zealand. He scored two tries against Samoa and South Africa along the way and captained the side in four of the five matches.
He added: “We lost players pre and during the tournament and we wanted to win it for them. However it wasn’t to be but it has been a squad effort to get us to that point.” Zach’s efforts were recognised when he was shortlisted, along with teammate Gabriel Ibitoye, for the player of the tournament award.
He was educated at Northowram Primary School, Halifax and Netherlee Primary in Glasgow before moving on to Williamswood High School in Clarkston, Glasgow and Merchiston Castle, where his specialist subjects were business studies, mathematics and physical education.
A member of the Bath Rugby Academy, he made his senior debut for the club in September 2016, having represented Edinburgh A against Glasgow A the previous December. Zach also figured in all four West Country Challenge matches at the start of the 2015/16 season. He previously played for Halifax-based Old Brodleians and Glasgow Hutcheson Aloysius (GHA). He said: “I’m involved in rugby simply because I love the game and the culture that exists within a team.”
Zach has captained Glasgow Warriors U16 and U18 and Edinburgh U17 and U18 and was the Rugby World Magazine’s Gilbert Schools Player of the Month for January 2015 after showing outstanding form in the loose for Edinburgh and scoring a series of fine tries. Ball-carrying and offloads are his speciality.
The players he especially admires are New Zealand’s Kieran Read, for his offloading skills, and Sergio Parisse, of Italy.
Zach’s father, Gary, won 22 caps for New Zealand at rugby league, captained Leeds Rhinos, was player-coach at Halifax and head coach at Castleford Tigers. After switching to union, he coached Glasgow Warriors, Scotland U16 and was head coach at Yorkshire Carnegie until February 2015. As for Zach, he is half New Zealander and one-eighth Maori.
40 points – 8T
2016 S(R), It, W(R), F(R) World Championship – It(R), S(R), A 2017: F, W, It, S, I World Championship – Sam, W, A, SA, NZ
15 points – 3T
2015 S, W(R) Europe: P, F, It; SA Tour: SA ‘A’, SA
Last updated: 18 January 2018