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Gatland's offer to Rees-Zammit after NFL move

REACTION: Wales coach Warren Gatland said he was ready to keep the door open for Louis Rees-Zammit’s return to rugby should his American football stint prove short-lived.

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Rees-Zammit was all set to be named in Wales’ training squad for the Six Nations last week.

But hours before Gatland’s announcement he sensationally declared he was quitting Rugby Union – for the time being at least – to pursue a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity of an American football career.

The 22-year-old wing has an impressive record of 14 tries in 32 Tests for Wales.

Yet he stunned the world by announcing he was heading to Florida to join the NFL’s International Player Pathway programme that allows athletes based outside the United States to forge a gridiron career.

Gatland was taken aback by Rees-Zammit’s move but, having had time to reflect on the decision, said: “When I thought about it and reflected on it, he’s been a fan of the NFL for a long time, he’s 22, he wants to take this opportunity and follow a dream, I say good on him.”

The New Zealander, speaking at the Six Nations launch in Dublin, added: “As a youngster, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in sport or in life, you’ve got to follow your dreams and if it doesn’t work out then maybe something else comes along or a different pathway.”

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Rees-Zammit scored five tries at last year’s World Cup and became the youngest player to be selected for the British and Irish Lions since 1959 when he was named in the squad for the 2021 tour of South Africa aged 20 years and 93 days.

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Wade warning

But it would still be a huge surprise were he to make it in the NFL.

Christian Wade, a former England wing, tried to make the same switch before returning to rugby following a stint with the Buffalo Bills that ended without him playing a competitive game.

Wade, now at Paris-based Racing 92, warned Rees-Zammit to expect a “lonely” time in the United States.

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“Getting the phone call from the Bills was one of the best days of my life, but once I was in there reality strikes,” Wade said.

He added: “I was in my hotel room, training every day, not knowing anybody. I couldn’t really call anybody because of the different time zones. No one is going to put a hand out to help you.

“Everybody is fighting for their own survival. America is a very big place and very lonely. It definitely is going to be lonely.”

But veteran coach Gatland, whose Wales side begin their Six Nations campaign at home to Scotland on February 3, said a return to rugby was still possible for Rees-Zammit if his NFL dream turned sour.

“For him, if it doesn’t work out then for us the door will potentially open for him to come back in the future,” he added.

“If it works out for him and he’s a superstar in the NFL, then congratulations to him…I support him 100 percent and I really hope things do work out for him.”

 

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