- Mercer made Premiership debut for Bath this season
- Was part of U20 World Rugby championship winning squad
- Find out more about England's U20s Six Nations squad
“I like the look of the Bath back-row forward Zach Mercer, he’s got something about him and is certainly a guy that we’ll keep an eye on.” – England head coach Eddie Jones 23/01/2017.
Just five months ago Zach Mercer was lining up for Hartpury College against Blackheath in National League One. Ten Premiership appearances later he finds himself firmly on Eddie Jones’ radar as he prepares for England’s Under 20 2017 Six Nations campaign.
'I wasn't nervous, I was excited'
Mercer, who was part of England’s World Rugby U20 Championship winning squad in the summer, has had quite a rapid rise this season.
He was handed a Premiership debut at the Rec against Newcastle on 10 September and his performances at the base of Bath’s scrum have not gone unnoticed.
Several more senior performances for the west-country side have followed but Mercer is taking it all in his stride.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was excited,” said Mercer, while also recognising the step up in “intensity” and “physicality” of Premiership rugby. “I loved it.
“The week before my debut I played for Hartpury and Bath were travelling away to Northampton.
“Afterwards I saw that Toby Faletau and David Denton went off injured so it went through my mind I might play. I just trained hard that week like I normally do.
“On the Tuesday, Todd came up to me and said ‘are you ready?’ I replied ‘what for?’ and he said ‘you’re making your Premiership debut on Saturday’. I was exhilarated, so happy to be given the opportunity to play at the Rec. To play in the Premiership was always a childhood dream and I’ve now managed to do it.”
'Before my debut Faletau sent me a good-luck text'
For Mercer, he is at the ideal club for an up-and-coming back-row forward. Surrounded by international talent he can also call one of the best forwards in world rugby, Toby Faletau, for advice as he looks to learn his trade.
As he recalls, Faletau sent him a message ahead of the match against Newcastle.
“Before my debut Toby sent me a text saying, ‘go out and do what you do and enjoy it’, so that’s what I did.
Hell of a first game for bath really enjoyed the experience and great to come out with a win and hopefully many more to come ⚫️⚪️⚫️⚪️— Zach Mercer (@Mercer8Zach) 10 September 2016
“Toby is one of the nicest guys off the pitch and on the pitch he is very relaxed as well. It’s his attitude that makes him so good, he likes to have fun but works so hard.”
Mercer, 19, can also call on the likes of David Denton, Dave Attwood, Luke Charteris and Francois Louw at Bath – something he appreciates makes him very fortunate.
“I’m lucky to be able to learn off some incredible players and some great role models,” he adds.
His Premiership debut was also a family affair with those closest to Mercer updated on his news via a family WhatsApp group.
“Everyone booked flights and trains to come down and see me play but I obviously made sure they kept it quiet before the team was officially announced,” recalls Mercer, whose 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.
Looking forward to getting into camp with 20s lads for the start of the 6nations— Zach Mercer (@Mercer8Zach) 29 January 2017
Despite being a new member of the senior side Mercer has been holding his own in the Premiership and has been earning rave reviews for his performances with senior head coach Jones paying tribute to him on the day of England’s RBS 6 Nations squad announcement.
“I like the look of the Bath back-row forward Zach Mercer, he’s got something about him and is certainly a guy that we’ll keep an eye on,” said Jones.
The forward made his England debut at U18 level in 2015 and started all three matches in the Rugby Europe U18 Championship in France that year, scoring two tries against Portugal and another against Italy in the Bronze final.
Mercer, who went on to play in four of the first five U20 games in the 2016 Six Nations Championship, will now turn his attention to the U20 Six Nations, with England facing France first in Exeter.
Having been part of the success in the summer Mercer is keen to continue that momentum, urging the side to create new history."I’m really looking forward to it, there is a buzz around camp."
“Last year we left a legacy behind of being the world champions but we have to create our own legacy now,” he said.
“We’ve got to go out onto that pitch and be ourselves rather than live in the shadows of the past. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the squad and I’m excited as there are a lot of good players out there. I’m very impressed.”
Outside of rugby, Mercer spends his time coaching rugby while also relaxing when he can in-between training and playing.
On the pitch he is determined to help deliver success for England’s U20 squad in this season’s Six Nations.
“We don’t know what the other nations are going to bring, they will be as passionate as us but hopefully our preparation will set us apart. I’m really looking forward to it, there is a buzz around camp.”