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Zak Mercer: The Gloucester back-rower is putting England's hopes aside after missing out on the Six Nations

Zak Mercer: The Gloucester back-rower is putting England's hopes aside after missing out on the Six Nations

  • Written by Sophie Horcum
  • BBC Sport

Image source, Rex features

Comment on the photo, Zak Mercer returns to English rugby this season with Gloucester after two years playing in France

Gloucester's number eight Zach Mercer says he is “done” with playing for England for now Missing the check For the next Six Nations Championship.

Mercer, who played two international matches in 2018, returned to the Premier League this season after two years in France, with the aim of playing for his country's national team again.

He was also overlooked for a spot in the World Cup squad last fall.

The 26-year-old said he did not feel coach Steve Borthwick “appreciated what he had to offer” as a player.

Mercer told BBC Sport: “I'm older and more mature. I've put international selection aside now. I'm done with that for now and will just focus on Gloucester.”

Mercer played twice for England under Borthwick's predecessor Eddie Jones and was on the fringes of the Australian team before moving to Montpellier in the French top 14 in 2020, in a move that made him ineligible for selection.

He shined in France and won the league title during his first year, and was named the 14th best player in 2022.

After signing for Gloucester last summer, he was included in Borthwick's training squad ahead of the World Cup in France but was left out when the final squad was named.

“To come back and have three weeks of training camp and it's over, I was really disappointed by that,” Mercer said.

“I've been open with Steve, telling him my opinions about it. I thought I didn't really have a crack which is how I feel, not to be given a game to try to prove myself. Cruel.”

“I don't feel like he appreciates what I can offer as a player, and that's me being honest, I don't think he appreciates what I can offer.

“Obviously I don't fit into the system he wants to run, and whether I agree with that or not, that's the way it is.

“My focus now is on Gloucester and England can take a step to the side for now.”

Mercer said Borthwick called him Tuesday to tell him he didn't fit into his plans for the team.

“I said if you give me a chance you won't be able to let me go,” Mercer said. “I want it so bad that I know when I play he won't be able to take me out of the team.”

“Like I said, he doesn’t want to choose me now, no matter what the reason is.”

Mercer is tired of waiting for England's chance

Mercer spent five years with Bath before moving across the Channel.

Few English players move abroad early in their careers, so as not to hurt their chances of playing internationally. As for Mercer, he moved to France specifically to escape it.

“I was so close but I never made it. I always got cut at the last minute,” he said.

“A rugby career is short, and I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do something that would take me out of my comfort zone.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Mercer was named Big 14 Player of the Year during his time with Montpellier

With the pressure of England selection off the table, Mercer said he was starting to enjoy rugby again and starting to excel on the field.

“I remember my first meeting with [Mohed] changing [Montpellier owner]He said: “In front of the group he was saying: 'You should be playing for England but you're not and here you are, just do what you do' – immediately the barriers fell.”

“They signed me the way I am and they want me to play that way, and that's why I think I went out there and all the pressure took off my shoulders, and that's when I started to see the best in me.

“I think there is a lot to learn from that in England.”

“The mental aspect was difficult.”

Mercer has returned to life in England and said he feels at home at Gloucester, where he has made eight appearances so far.

He scored his first try in the Challenge Cup win against Edinburgh last Saturday – a competition in which he tops the stats for ball carries and ranks in the top five for defenders beaten.

But after being very open about his unfulfilled England ambitions, Mercer said he was “struggling”, especially when he spent seven weeks out of action due to injury.

“The mental side of it has been really tough. I've been struggling with it for the last two weeks,” he said.

“It's been difficult coming back here – not to Gloucester – but in general with the international stuff.

“I don't want to be one of those people who look back on my career and say: 'I should have got more caps for England, I should have done that.'

“That's what worries me now.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Mercer won two England caps in 2018 under Eddie Jones

However, England's omission has given him the clarity to focus fully on Gloucester, where he said fans “haven't seen the best of him” yet.

The biggest lessons Mercer learned from his time in France were away from the pitch.

He said that living in a country far from his homeland with a different language and culture helped him grow as a person.

“The leadership aspect for me – around the playing group, the way I try to help the younger players and help Gloucester move forward with the Skivs [George Skivington] “I feel like that's where I've developed the most,” he said.

“In terms of rugby, I feel like I've always been there, but I've had the ability to enjoy it.”

The results haven't been quite there for Gloucester this season, especially in the Premier League – where they have gone on a record nine-game losing streak.

In the European Challenge Cup, the story is different. The Whites are unbeaten and will face Castres at home on Friday, knowing that a win will guarantee them a home draw in the knockout stages.

Mercer is confident that a league win will soon follow, given his European form.

He said: “The results will turn in our favor. We will have the opportunity to bounce back here or there, and I strongly believe in that.”

“If I have a smile on my face, I'm playing the best rugby I can.”