Zach Mercer, who was named in England’s Six Nations squad yesterday, has revealed he was “really upset” when he was told three years ago that he was not being selected for Scotland at under-18 level.
The Bath No 8 is one of eight uncapped players, including ex-Scotland under-20 player Gary Graham, called up by England head coach Eddie Jones as he prepares to face Italy on 4 February.
However, 20-year-old Mercer’s rugby journey could have been different. He moved to Scotland from Leeds at the age of eight in 2005 when his father Gary became Glasgow Warriors defence coach.
After joining local club GHA, Mercer went on to earn Scotland under-16 caps on residency grounds, impressing many at the Wellington Festival of 2013.
A pupil at Williamwood High School at that point, he moved to Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh for his final two years of schooling and played under highly regarded coaches Rob Moffat and Roddy Deans.
In 2014/15, his final year, he was offered a place at the Bath Academy. His link-up with the top English club looked set to be followed up by a Scotland under-18 call-up, but that never materialised. Mercer said: “I signed for Bath and, from that point onwards, Scotland pretty much said they wouldn’t be using me at under-18 level because they had to focus on guys who were wanting to continue their development in Scotland.
“Obviously I was disappointed at the time not to be involved with Scotland because I had loved the under-16s.
“I signed for Bath and when a Premiership club comes calling you don’t turn it down it was the best decision for me at that time.
“I was then sat at my laptop a while later and my mates from the Scotland under-16s were messaging saying ‘have you had an email about the upcoming 18s squad?’ I hadn’t so I was a bit confused.
“The Scotland under-18 coach at the time [Eddie Pollock] then rang me and said I am going to come and visit you and have a chat,” added Mercer, whose father won caps for New Zealand in rugby league.
“So, myself Rob Moffat and Eddie all sat down and he explained the situation and, I’ll be honest, at the time I was really upset about it because all I wanted to do was continue to play rugby with my mates.
“But then Peter Walton [the former Scotland cap who now works for the RFU] came calling and invited me down to an England under-18 training camp and the next thing I knew I was starting for England v Scotland at under-18 level [in Newcastle in March 2015 when England won 39-27] so it all went pretty fast.
“I could understand that Scotland wanted to work with players who were staying up there, it hurt a bit, but I just got my chin up and kept going.
“To turn down England when they gave me a chance would have been stupid. You never know what would have happened if I had played Scotland under-18s, but fast forward to the present day and all I want to do is represent England and, when I do, hopefully there will be people from my time up in Scotland who will be proud of me.”
Last year at Bath, Mercer shared digs with Adam Hastings, son of Scotland legend Gavin, and he expects the stand-off to have a big future.
“I texted Adam this week to say well done on being asked to train with Scotland,” said Mercer. “He can go all the way, he is a maverick who can score from anywhere. He is very consistent in what he does and his skill set is very high.
“I think when he gets a run with Glasgow he will show what he can do and I am looking forward to watching him continue to move forward and, who knows, maybe play against him at international level one day.”