Mercer could start for England

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England head coach Eddie Jones has indicated that former Old Brodleians junior Zach Mercer has a chance of starting the NatWest Six Nations opener against Italy on February 4.

England have been rocked by injuries and suspensions ahead of their bid to win the title for a third consecutive year with Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes among those sidelined.

That leaves an opening in the No 8 position and Bath’s Mercer, son of former Halifax RLFC player and coach Gary Mercer, was today named in the squad for the opening game in Rome.

Bath’s Mercer is selected for the first time in the main squad after serving as an apprentice for the best part of a year.

The 20-year-old, a quick and strong ball carrier in the back row, captained England Under 20s to the Six Nations Grand Slam before guiding his country to the final of the World Rugby Under 20 Championship last summer.

Eight uncapped players have been named in the squad, including Mercer and Harlequins prop Lewis Boyce.

Jones said: “It’s been another challenge but we took a team to Argentina without 16 Lions players and we’re probably missing up to 12 first-choice squad players, but we’ve been able to put together a good squad, full of experience and enthusiasm.

“We’ve tried to pick a squad that is strong in set piece and defence as well as an ability to convert opportunities to points. That experience does help.”

Jones added: “Zach Mercer has a chance of being selected, especially with the absence of Nathan and Billy.

“He comes into contention at the No 8 role and we’ve been really impressed with how hard he’s worked at Bath off and on the field in terms of his defence.

“He is a naturally gifted player in terms of attack and is exciting to watch.”

Mercer, who used to live at Northowram, joined Old Brodleians when he was four. He moved to Scotland as a 10-year-old when his dad got a job with Glasgow Warriors.

Zach returned to the Brods last May for the junior section annual presentation day.