Bath Rugby Academy number eight Zach Mercer has been named in the England U20 squad for the upcoming season; one which will see them defend their Six Nations title and compete in a home World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester.
Mercer has enjoyed invaluable first team experience this season for the Club during the West Country Challenge Cup, and will look to make further inorads throughout the course of 2015/16.
The 32-man-group includes four players previously capped at this level. Jack Walker brings the experience of two World Championships while Josh Bainbridge and George Perkins were part of the squad who narrowly lost out to New Zealand in this year’s final. Joe Marchant was unfortunate to miss the tournament with injury having been part of the successful Six Nations campaign.
The U20 squad forms part of the Player Development Pathway and since its formation in 2007 – replacing the England U21 team – it has an impressive seven-year record.
In 80 matches played, the squad have won 63 and lost just 17. The U20s have won five Six Nations titles (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015) and reached six of the eight World Championship finals, lifting the trophy in 2013 and 2014.
The development of players relies on strong relationships with the Regional Academies and the progression of talent continues beyond this squad through to the senior side. There have been 26 Under 20 graduates capped at Test level since 2008 with Exeter Chief Henry Slade among the most recent.
Ian Peel will lead the side as Head Coach having held the role of Forwards Coach. Former Bath Rugby fullback Jon Callard, who filled the post on an interim basis last season, will support with the backs and player mentoring, allowing him to focus on developing the post 20 programme.
Peel said: “Naming a new squad each year is exciting and there are always different combinations and blends of where the players come from. We have the season to help them improve individually but also the challenge of bringing the talent together and putting it into strong team performances come the Six Nations and then into the World Championship.
“Selection is getting harder each year because we have more and more young players to choose from as a result of all the good work going on within the academies. Their U18 league has had a positive effect with players regularly competing against tough opposition. The guys are nurtured well within their clubs getting good opportunities either on loan, in the A league or even in the first team. We are then privileged to work with the top talent within this group.
“We are constantly assessing where players are at. The squad is reviewed at Christmas and we can make some changes. Players will have gone away and worked hard to push for a place. Equally those who have been named understand that they need to continue improving to keep their place and maximise their potential if they want to be putting their hands up for selection in the Six Nations. I believe we have a really strong group and if they work well together and perform well, they will have success, it is about being the best they can individually and as a team.”
England U20 Elite Player Squad 2016
Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins)
Joshua Bainbridge (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Theo Brophy Clews (London Irish)
Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)
Max Malins (Saracens)
Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints)
Joseph Marchant (Harlequins)
Jack Maunder (Exeter Chiefs)
Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)
Joe Mullis (Gloucester Rugby)
George Nott (Sale Sharks)
Paolo Odogwu (Leicester Tigers)
George Perkins (Saracens)
Jake Pope (Sale Sharks)
Taylor Prell (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Mathew Protheroe (Gloucester Rugby)
Will Safe (Gloucester Rugby)
Jamie Shillcock (Worcester Warriors)
Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
Samuel Smith (Worcester Warriors)
Stanley South (Harlequins)
William Stuart (Wasps)
Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
Oliver Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
Billy Walker (Saracens)
Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Tom West (Wasps)
Archie White (Harlequins)
John Williams (London Irish)
For tickets and more information on the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester in June visit http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/u20champs