Who’s hot and who’s not: Zach Mercer’s reaction to England snub, transparency over Springboks deal and World Cup abuse

Jared Wright
Gloucester forward Zach Mercer and referee Wayne Barnes.

Gloucester forward Zach Mercer and referee Wayne Barnes.

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


Origin Round in URC:  The United Rugby Championship celebrated players and referees rugby roots last weekend. The idea was to pay tribute to where it all began with players wearing their school or club socks during the games, honouring where they have come from. There was also references to the schools of the players shown in the line-ups and or on some of the team kits. The idea is hugely successful, with fans loving the concept. It is also a great way to showcase the incredible journey of some of the talented players on display. We love the idea.

Zach Mercer hits back: After missing out on selection for England’s Six Nations campaign, the Gloucester back-rower must have thought he would earn a call-up to the England ‘A’ side for their upcoming clash with Portugal. It wasn’t to be, however, as the 26-year-old was also omitted from that squad, but he didn’t take his latest snub lying down and said in an interview with the BBC that: “I’m older, more mature, I put the international selection aside now, I’m done for the time being with that and I’m just going to focus on Gloucester.” That will be music to the ears of Gloucester fans, and his showing against Exeter in the Premiership Rugby Cup certainly sent a message to England’s selectors.

Munster and Gavin Coombes: Although their head coach, Graham Rowntree, was not entirely happy with their performance in their 42-7 victory over the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets on Friday night, the United Rugby Championship’s defending champions got the job done in style and were rewarded with a bonus-point for their efforts. This, after they outscored their hosts by six tries to one, with Coombes leading the way with a deserved brace. That means he has now scored a whopping 42 tries in 88 games for Munster. Munster’s win means they are still firmly placed in the play-off spots and, with players coming back from injury, are more than capable of going on another winning run.

Paul Graou scores four: All eyes in Toulouse were on scrum-half Paul Graou this weekend as he started in the number nine jumper for the Top 14 club in their first game since Antoine Dupont departed to link up with the France sevens team. And it is fair to say that he didn’t disappoint! The 26-year-old tallied up five try involvements in a 61-34 thrashing of Oyonnax on Saturday, scoring four tries and assisting another in a sublime performance. Talk about taking your chance and easing the Dupont absence for his club’s passionate supporters.

Louis Lynagh makes Italian move: What a coup for the Italians! The high-flying Harlequins winger sealed a move to Benetton and has now been called into the Azzurri squad and could make his debut against France this week. The speedster earned an England call-up under Eddie Jones but never got an opportunity to win his first cap and has been overlooked by Steve Borthwick, too. For Italy, it’s a statement of intent nabbing one of the Premiership’s top talents, while Lynagh gets the opportunity to represent his country of birth. Fair play to the youngster; it’s a big decision, but one he has confidently made, and it will be exciting to see him in action in the Six Nations this weekend.

SA Rugby’s transparency: There was outrage amongst some Springbok fans earlier this week when SA Rugby announced they were in advanced negotiations with an American consortium over a possible private equity deal. SA Rugby said the deal could provide important “expertise, networks, and resources necessary to enhance the commercial value of South African rugby” and also underlined that the deal would not mean the Springboks brand would be sold. After the reaction from those unhappy Bok supporters, who did not take SA Rugby at their word, the governing body’s CEO Rian Obeholzer wrote an open letter to South Africans in which he explained to them in detail the finer points of the deal and – once again – promised that the Bok brand would not be sold. We applaud Obeholzer and SA Rugby’s transparency.

Rugby Europe Championship in the spotlight: While the Six Nations was on a break, many fans tuned in to the final pool stage rounds of the REC, and the ‘Tier 2’ nations did not disappoint. There were victories for Georgia, Belgium and the Netherlands this past weekend, but it was the 2023 World Cup darlings Portugal who stole the limelight once again and rightly so. Os Lobos put on a show against Romania with rising star Lucas Martins scoring a scorching try, but this team crossing in the 24-49 victory was the icing on the cake. What a score this was.


World Rugby abuse report: This weekend, rugby’s governing body revealed the outcomes of an investigation into the online abuse match officials, players, teams and other stakeholders received during the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the report made for grim reading. The now retired Wayne Barnes was the most targeted individual with nearly 700 messages, while England were collectively the most targeted team.

Will Jordan injury blow: For a second year in a row, the Crusaders will start their Super Rugby Pacific season without the services of their star outside back, who is battling with a shoulder problem. He adds to an already mounting injury list that includes Leigh Halfpenny, Ethan Blackadder and Fergus Burke. Jordan missed most of last term with migraine-related symptoms, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Tommaso Allan shock news: While Lynagh’s move to Italy is a huge plus for Italy, it’s come with the news that their most capped squad member, Allan, is taking a break from international rugby. It’s a stark reminder of the pressure the players go through at the top of the game as he, like Owen Farrell, admitted that the mental and physical toll was too much. We do applaud Allan for making this difficult decision.

Clumsy Rey Lee-Lo sent off: Cardiff’s URC home clash with Connacht was overshadowed by a clumsy tackle from the Samoa centre on Connacht flyer Shayne Bolton early in the contest. Lee-Lo’s head-high tackle was dangerous, and after watching television replays, referee Andrea Piardi had no hesitation in issuing a red card. As expected, Bolton came off worse from the incident and was immediately taken off for an HIA -which he failed – with Tom Farrell replacing him. Lee-Lo’s challenge was reckless, and he can expect some time on the sidelines.

Rebels situation worsens: They say when it rains, it pours, and this seems to be the situation for Super Rugby Pacific side, Melbourne Rebels, who are struggling to survive. At the end of last month, it was confirmed that the Rebels had entered voluntary administration and that they are up to AU$9 million in debt, of which about AUS$1 million in hire fees were owed to the Australian Taxation Office for their home ground, AAMI Park. However, the crisis deepened last week when the Rebels revealed that 10 of their members of staff, including the chief executive, have lost their jobs. Things are not looking good, and hopefully, they will find a cash injection soon, which will save them.

Poor form Dan: We can understand coaches being upset after a narrow defeat, and that was the case for Dan McFarland on Sunday after his side fell to a 19-17 defeat to the Ospreys courtesy of a late Dan Edwards drop goal. However, the Ulster boss decided to spend most of his post-match press conference pinning the loss on two calls from the officiating team, on the same weekend that World Rugby released their report. That was a cheap deflection from the Ulster boss which has since drawn plenty of criticism from their own supporters. Do better.

READ MORE: Sharks v Stormers: Five takeaways as Springboks hopefuls shine as visitors claim 15th straight win over local rivals