Zach Mercer is now England's FIFTH choice number 8, England have explained why - Ruck

Zach Mercer is now England’s FIFTH choice number 8, England have explained why

When Steve Borthwick’s latest England squad was announced yesterday, the biggest talking points centred on the players who were left out. One prominent name in the discussion was Gloucester number 8, Zach Mercer.

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Mercer, who was named player of the year in the French league during Montpellier’s championship-winning season in 2022, has struggled to secure a consistent place in Borthwick’s national squad.

The Gloucester No. 8, previously omitted from the Six Nations squad, has once again been left out of the group of 19 players set to gather this week before the summer Tests in Japan and New Zealand.

Instead, uncapped Exeter star Greg Fisilau has been included, pushing Mercer down to fifth in the pecking order for English No. 8s.

Zach Mercer of Gloucester Rugby during the Challenge Cup Final Match between Gloucester Rugby and Hollywoodbets Sharks at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 24 May 2024. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

In an exclusive interview with RugbyPass, RFU director of rugby performance Conor O’Shea hinted that the focus is on the future, specifically under-20 players, rather than Zach Mercer.

O’Shea emphasised the need to balance experience with youth, stating that squads are chosen to field the strongest team for each match. This suggests that Borthwick views Mercer as less competitive than other experienced back-rowers and believes younger, less experienced players will benefit more from the opportunity.

O’Shea was understandably cautious in his remarks, providing what many might consider political answers. However, it seems clear that Mercer is unlikely to don an England shirt in the near future.

“There would be players that Steve might pick tomorrow that would be ahead of some of the players that are potentially there now, and it’s getting that balance” O’Shea said.

“We said this right from the start about young players popping out of the U20s that we want to keep that connection amongst them as well as the senior players and it’s getting that balance. Listen, it’s a massive honour to play for your country at any level and this is a big Test match against Portugal, but we are trying to balance.

“You could look across and say there are a number of players, ‘Should they be in?’ Every position has been discussed with what’s right for this particular game as opposed to what would be happening if you were running out into the Six Nations, plus making sure we have the strongest type of team available.

“That’s the rationale behind some of the selections. And Steve has spoken to a couple of players who might think, ‘Are we second in, are we third in the team and we’re not in this’ and he has spoken to them.”

Current number 8 pecking order

  • 6. Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
  • 5. Zach Mercer (Gloucester Rugby)
  • 4. Alfie Barbeary (Bath Rugby)
  • 3. Greg Fisilau (Exeter Chiefs)
  • 2. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)
  • 1. Ben Earl (Saracens)

Five biggest shocks from Borthwick’s latest squad – Zach Mercer left out again

There were a number of high-profile absentees as Steve Borthwick named a 19-player training squad to begin preparations for the forthcoming Summer Series against Japan and New Zealand.

The squad will assemble at Pennyhill Park on Monday 27 May for a four-day training camp.

England’s Summer Series begins on Saturday 22 June with a Test match against Japan in Tokyo before embarking on a two-Test tour of New Zealand in July.

High-profile absentees:

#1.Joe Launchbury (Harlequins)

There have been rumours that the veteran might have done enough to earn a recall. Although he missed the last few games due to a calf injury, there’s still a good chance he could join the squad as the final announcement approaches.

Joe Launchbury of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester Rugby and Harlequins at Kingsholm Stadium on October 14th, 2023 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK/Gallagher)

#2. Zach Mercer (Gloucester)

There was a lot of buzz this week about Mercer possibly returning to the international team. However, yet another squad was announced without him being recalled. The sidelined number 8 must be questioning what more he needs to do to earn a spot on the team.

Zach Mercer of Gloucester Rugby during the Challenge Cup Final Match between Gloucester Rugby and Hollywoodbets Sharks at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 24 May 2024. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK