Livescore Thursday, April 25

Gloucester boss George Skivington has insisted he isn’t uncomfortable about fielding so many questions recently about Zach Mercer, the Gallagher Premiership club’s on-song No8.

The Top 14 player of the year for 2001/22 when he helped to propel Montpellier to first-time, top-tier glory, the script was for the 26-year-old to come back across the Channel and go straight into Eddie Jones’ England team for Rugby World Cup 2023.

The problem was that Jones got the sack before Mercer arrived at work at Kingsholm and Steve Borthwick, who took over the England job, decided to go a different way with Ben Early since emerging as the Test team’s No8 after Billy Vunipola’s attempt to reclaim the shirt petered out at the World Cup.

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Skivington, who coached the revived England A team in their late February rout of a Portuguese development side at Leicester, believes in-form Mercer is still a potential Borthwick pick for the upcoming summer tour to Japan and New Zealand despite his ongoing out-of-favour situation.

Mercer produced a player of the match performance last Friday to help Gloucester win away to Leicester for the first time in 16 and a half years and it left Skivington fielding multiple questions post-game and in the run-up to this Saturday’s home derby versus Bristol about the back row’s Test selection situation.


Gallagher Premiership



That interest is at the expense of queries about numerous other players who are playing very well in his rejuvenated team. To an outsider, it could be conceived that Gloucester are a one-man team but Skivington doesn’t mind the added attention that Mercer attracts.

Asked by RugbyPass about Mercer currently hogging the media limelight by being at the heart of so many questions about Gloucester, Skivington said: “That’s very true, we have got a lot of players playing really well… but I understand.

“Zach is a very unique player and obviously everyone thought he was going to go to the World Cup and then he didn’t, everyone thought he was going to do Six Nations, and so there is always going to be a lot of focus on him and rightfully so. He is a class player and everyone wants him to push through, which is great.

“I’m happy answering whatever questions get thrown about whoever but we all understand someone like Zach, with the hype when he was coming back and that, there was always going to be a lot of attention and that’s the way it goes.

“But internally we recognise everybody and Zach is definitely recognized, but we have our own Monday meetings with the highlights reel and conversations and internally everybody knows all their work is recognised and the Gloucester supporters are brilliant, to be fair.

“The Gloucester supporters love someone like Zach as much as they love someone who quietly doesn’t get mentioned but goes about their work. It’s part and parcel of it, but there are a lot of lads working really hard and want to do something here.”

This description of Mercer as unique, can the Gloucester coach elaborate on the No8’s special point of difference? “The way he carries the ball. You certainly couldn’t train it, you couldn’t coach it,” enthused Skivington.

“The responsibility of a coaching team is to put him in the right position and make sure everybody gets the ball to him as much as possible, but once he has got the ball he is given a license to do what he does and everybody feeds off that.

“His footwork and his ability to slide through a line, I don’t think many people could do that and you certainly couldn’t mimic it. So from that point of view, he is very, very unique.

“All we can do and our responsibility is to make sure he is in the right positions within a structure and the boys know how to get the ball to him and maybe use him as a decoy at times as well. He is very unique. He has ball-carrying ability you couldn’t coach.”

Back to the other Gloucester players playing at the top of their game. Would Skivington care to mention some of the standouts other than Mercer? “We have got a lot of players playing really well here at Gloucester and our back row with Ruan (Ackermann), Jack (Clement) and Lewis (Ludlow), everyone has been going extremely well.

“We have some young centres in Seb Atkinson and Max Llewellyn who were outstanding on Friday night. Seb Blake (the hooker) has got mentioned. Genuinely some of our props, Jamal Ford-Robinson has been outstanding this season, so there are lots of good things going on.”

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