There is no argument in Zach Mercer’s mind. When asked to compare himself to the player who left Bath for Montpellier two years ago, he says, “A lot better.” In France, I’ve developed a lot. I wanted to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I achieved it. I have matured and grown up as a result.
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Often, his cheerful demeanor as he drives home from training tells the story all by itself. As he and his pregnant wife, Emily, prepare to return to the UK this summer, no one in Europe is better qualified to talk about the benefits of a change of scene across the Channel.
English rugby should be thankful for the positive effects of Mercer’s time in the Mediterranean; he earned himself the title of Top 14 Player of the Year, an impressive achievement considering all the talent in French rugby. To top it off, Montpellier also lifted the title. Even now, Mercer is still astonished at what he achieved – as he puts it, “I don’t think it would have happened at Bath”.
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After Sunday’s Champions Cup final-16 match against Exeter at Sandy Park, the goal is to break into England’s World Cup plans this autumn. Having finished in the bottom half of the Six Nations, Steve Borthwick and his coaching staff will surely want to make the most of the rangy No 8’s dexterity and dynamism off the base as soon as he becomes eligible again on 1 July.
Why has it taken two years to restore Mercer to the player he appeared to be in 2018 when, aged 21, he won his two previous international caps against South Africa and Japan? Bath chose not to pick him every week, so it wasn’t a surprise that the back-rower opted for a change of scene away from the Rec as a result of the latter fixture, which derailed a few Test careers.