Exclusive: Gloucester to sign Zach Mercer ahead of 2023 World Cup

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Zach Mercer is on the verge of a return to the Premiership after a successful stint in the Top 14 - GETTY IMAGES
Zach Mercer is on the verge of a return to the Premiership after a successful stint in the Top 14 - GETTY IMAGES

Gloucester are understood to have landed the signing of Zach Mercer in a move that will allow the back-rower to represent England at the 2023 World Cup.

Mercer, named at No 8 in the Top 14 team of the season after helping Montpellier to the title, has made no secret of his desire to resume his Test career and is thought to be close to finalising a move to Kingsholm ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.

Eddie Jones will consider Mercer for selection in England’s pre-World Cup camp if he is due to be joining a Premiership club from July various teams have shown strong interest.

An extended training camp and four warm-up Tests between July and September would then give Mercer plenty of time to prove his worth and there are precedents for Jones bringing in players before they have played in the Premiership under a new contract.

Ben Te’o travelled to Australia in 2016, Piers Francis was in the squad that visited Argentina in 2017 and Brad Shields faced South Africa after his move from the Hurricanes in New Zealand the next year.

Mercer, a former England Under-20 captain who won two caps in 2018, fell out of favour with Jones following an infamous win over Japan at Twickenham. Danny Care and Alex Lozowski were others to be cast aside in the wake of that 35-15 victory four years ago.

Having traded Bath for Montpellier in the summer of 2021, Mercer has proven to be a huge hit in France. He scored twice to punctuate a phenomenal performance against Harlequins in the Champions Cup in April and added another try in the Top 14 final, helping his side to a 29-10 victory over Castres.

Mercer has impressed since his move to Montpellier - AFP
Mercer has impressed since his move to Montpellier - AFP

During the regular season, after another meeting between Montpellier and Castres in November 2021, Jones had met up with Mercer.

“I am really impressed with how he’s growing his game,” Jones, who had been visiting France on a World Cup recce after the November internationals, said of the 25-year-old.

“For a young player, to have taken the initiative to go and develop his game in another country is absolutely outstanding.

“We’re in constant contact with him and he’s developing his game really nicely. We’re hopeful that he’ll come back and try to fight for a spot and fight for a World Cup squad.”

Speaking around five months later, Mercer hoped that his displays in the notoriously abrasive Top 14 would dismiss any concerns that he might be too lightweight for the international arena.

“I think a lot of people had a perception of me and I think the Top 14 is definitely changing that,” Mercer told Telegraph Sport. “They didn’t think I was physical and I would not put my head where it hurts.

“You can’t afford not to do that in the Top 14 because you won’t last. If you watch some Top 14 games I think you will see how brutal the league is. Every weekend is a war. I love life here.”

England’s pecking order at No 8 has been uncertain since the 2019 World Cup. Tom Curry was shifted there in the absence of Billy Vunipola before Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt were given opportunities last season.

 Zach Mercer in action during the Autumn International match at Twickenham Stadium - PA
Zach Mercer in action during the Autumn International match at Twickenham Stadium - PA

Injuries to Simmonds and Dombrandt, however, precipitated a return for Billy Vunipola ahead of the three-Test tour of Australia. The Saracen was among England’s most influential figures in a hard-fought series victory over the Wallabies.

The presence of Courtney Lawes, Curry, Sam Underhill and Lewis Ludlam and Jack Willis means that competition will be ferocious. Still, the pacey and skilful Mercer, who is capable of covering different positions in the back row, would offer something different to the mix for 2023.

A move to the Premiership would not be his only route to further Test caps. He is also eligible for New Zealand given World Rugby’s new eligibility amendment allowing players to represent a nation of their heritage following a three-year stand-down period.

Gloucester already possess a talented back-row stable including Lewis Ludlow, Jordy Reid, Jake Polledri, Ruan Ackermann, Ben Morgan and Jack Clement.

They have also added Albert Tuisue this summer, but a lack of other additions so far suggests that George Skivington, their head coach, would have room within the salary cap to add Mercer in 2023.

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