VIDEO: Welsh star gives up Rugby Union to play Gridiron
NEWS: Louis Rees-Zammit made the shock decision to leave Gloucester with immediate effect, as the Wales Rugby Union star “pursues his dream” of a career in American Football.
Rees-Zammit’s bombshell move came on the day Wales coach Warren Gatland unveiled his squad for the forthcoming Six Nations tournament.
The 22-year-old had emerged as one of the game’s brightest young talents, excelling for Gloucester, Wales and the British and Irish Lions.
But Rees-Zammit has opted to turn his back on Rugby Union in favour of a potentially lucrative career in America’s National Football League.
He will leave for Florida this week to begin the ‘International Pathway Program’ that allows athletes based outside the United States to earn a career in the NFL.
“Gloucester have agreed to release wing Louis Rees-Zammit with immediate effect to enable the 22-year-old to pursue his dream of playing in the National Football League,” a statement from the English Premiership club said.
“The Welsh international has accepted an invitation to join the NFL International Player Pathway, which provides elite athletes from around the world with an opportunity to earn a place on an NFL roster.”
Rees-Zammit, who has been capped 32 times for Wales, said the opportunity to chase his NFL dream was too good to turn down.
“I have had the incredible honour of playing rugby for my country which, as a proud Welshman, I’ve never taken for granted,” he said.
“Opting to step away from international rugby on the eve of the Six Nations has been a painstaking decision, but I am extremely excited to take up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue a new challenge.
“I believe that this is the right time for me to realise another professional goal of playing American football in the US. Those opportunities don’t come around very often.”
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🗣️ “I’m just very proud to have been a rugby player for Gloucester…”@LouisReesZammit reflects on his rugby journey and his decision to take up an opportunity on the @NFL‘s International Player Pathway. pic.twitter.com/wVTEtBwQBU
— Gloucester Rugby 🍒 (@gloucesterrugby) January 16, 2024
Rees-Zammit claimed the move did not necessarily mean he was retiring from rugby, but he will miss the Six Nations, which starts in February and has no plans to return to club rugby in the short term.
“Although this decision may come as a surprise, I would like to reiterate that this does not necessarily mean I am retiring from Rugby Union,” he said.
“At this age and stage of my life, I am excited to explore a unique challenge that has the potential to diversify my skillset.”
The current NFL season has reached the play-offs, meaning Rees-Zammit would aim to earn a roster spot on a team in time for the 2024 season, which starts in September.
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 to South Africa aged 20 years and 93 days.
Wales are due to host Scotland in their opening Six Nations match on February 3, with Rees-Zammit’s announcement completely overshadowing the naming of their squad.
Exeter lock Dafydd Jenkins was appointed Wales captain as Jac Morgan, who skippered them at the World Cup, is likely to miss the Six Nations after knee surgery.
Gatland named five uncapped players in Cardiff quartet Cameron Winnett, Evan Lloyd, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin, plus Bath prop Archie Griffin.
Wales’ Six Nations squad
Backs: Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Cai Evans, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady, George North, Joe Roberts, Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Rio Dyer, Tom Rogers, Cameron Winnett.
Forwards: Corey Domachowski, Kemsley Mathias, Gareth Thomas, Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias, Evan Lloyd, Keiron Assiratti, Leon Brown, Archie Griffin, Adam Beard, Dafydd Jenkins, Will Rowlands, Teddy Williams, Taine Basham, James Botham, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright
* Additional reporting by AFP