Zach Mercer snubbed as England A squad revealed to face Portugal

Jared Wright
Gloucester forward Zach Mercer, Bath's Alfie Barbeary and Bristol Bears and England scrum-half Harry Randall.

Gloucester forward Zach Mercer, Bath's Alfie Barbeary and Bristol Bears and England scrum-half Harry Randall.

The England Men’s A squad to take on Portugal at Leicester Tigers’ stadium on Sunday, 25 February, has been unveiled.

England head coach Steve Borthwick has selected the squad in consultation with England Men’s A head coach George Skivington, his assistants Dom Waldouck and Sam Vesty, and RFU executive director of performance rugby Conor O’Shea.

The clash is the first time the England Men’s A team has played since facing off against South Africa A in 2016.

No Zach Mercer

Five squad members have represented the senior England side: Jamie Blamire, Nick Isiekwe, Tom Pearson, Harry Randall and Ollie Hassell-Collins.

Meanwhile, 21 of the 27 players involved have been brought through the England rugby pathway and achieved caps at either the U18 or U20 level within the men’s system.

There is, however, no space for Gloucester star Zach Mercer, who the England set-up has once again snubbed, while Bath’s Alfie Barbeary returns from his suspension for the clash.

Mercer trained with the England squad ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup but received no game time before he was released back to Gloucester.

His omission comes as Borthwick favoured back rowers Rusiate Tuima, Tom Pearson, Guy Pepper, Barbeary, Greg Fisilau and Mercer’s clubmate Jack Clement.

Tuima will also provide an option in the second-row where he will compete with Nick Isiekwe, Arthur Clark and Ben Bamber for a starting jumper.

In the front-row, New Zealander Josh Iosefa Scott – who joined Exeter Chiefs in 2021 – has been called up alongside fellow tighthead James Harper. Fin Baxter and Tarek Haffar are the loosehead props named in the squad, but current Six Nations squad members may filter in.

George McGuigan and Tom Dunn are other surprising omissions at hooker as Jamie Blamire, Sam Riley and Seb Blake are preferred.

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Randall and Hassell-Collins are two senior internationals included in the backs, with the former included alongside Gloucester youngster Caolan Englefield as the two scrum-halves.

Charlie Atkinson has impressed since making the mid-season switch to Gloucester and has been named alongside his former Leicester Tigers’ teammate Jamie Shillcock as the two fly-halves.

Tonga-born centre Rekeiti Ma’asi-White and Saracens’ Ollie Hartley are likely to link up in the midfield while Ollie Sleightholme, Hassell-Collins and Cadan Murley are the wingers included in the side.

Finally, Josh Hodge and Sam Harris are the fullbacks included in the 27-man squad which will assemble at Loughborough University next Tuesday (20 February) to begin preparations for the fixture later that week.

England rugby confirmed that some players presently training with the senior squad for the Six Nations will join the squad at Loughborough University.

“We’re delighted to see the return of A Team rugby as such an important part of our rugby’s development and to announce the squad for the forthcoming fixture against Portugal,” England head coach, Steve Borthwick said.

“We have got a lot of talented and exciting young players in England, and this is a great opportunity for them to show they can play international rugby. We have selected players in this initial squad who we believe have the potential to be in the England team in the very near future.

“One of the very important aspects of this A Team is to provide a platform for players who have come out of the U20s and who are playing club rugby, allowing them to experience the international environment.

“It’s great to have the fixture at the Leicester Tigers’ stadium. It’s an area where the supporters know and love their rugby. I have no doubt the players will revel in the support they will get from the stands.”

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Premiership club breakdown

All ten Premiership clubs are represented in the squad.

4 – Exeter Chiefs: Josh Iosefa Scott, Rusiate Tuima, Greg Fisilau, Josh Hodge
4 – Gloucester Rugby: Seb Blake, Arthur Clark, Jack Clement, Caolan Englefield, Charlie Atkinson
3 – Sale Sharks: James Harper, Ben Bamber, Rekeiti Ma’asi-White
3 – Northampton Saints: Tarek Haffar, Tom Pearson, Ollie Sleightholme
3 – Harlequins: Fin Baxter, Sam Riley, Cadan Murley.
2 – Newcastle Falcons: Jamie Blamire, Guy Pepper
2 – Saracens: Nick Isiekwe, Oliver Hartley
2 – Bath Rugby: Alfie Barbeary, Sam Harris
2 – Leicester Tigers: Jamie Shillcock, Ollie Hassell-Collins
1 – Bristol Bears: Harry Randall

England Men’s A squad to face Portugal

Forwards: Fin Baxter, Tarek Haffar, Jamie Blamire, Sam Riley, Seb Blake, Josh Iosefa Scott, James Harper, Nick Isiekwe, Arthur Clark, Ben Bamber, Rusiate Tuima, Tom Pearson, Guy Pepper, Alfie Barbeary, Greg Fisilau, Jack Clement

Backs: Caolan Englefield, Harry Randall, Charlie Atkinson, Jamie Shillcock, Ollie Sleightholme, Oliver Hartley, Rekeiti Ma’asi-White, Cadan Murley, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Josh Hodge, Sam Harris

England A v Portugal
Date: Sunday, February 25
Kick-off: 13:00 BST

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