On the eve of the Six Nations, Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit has sent shockwaves through the rugby world by announcing an immediate switch to American football. The 22-year-old’s surprising decision was revealed just before the Wales squad was named, and he is set to depart for Florida this week to join the NFL’s International Player Pathway.
In a move uncommon outside of cross-code transfers to rugby league, Rees-Zammit expressed that playing in the NFL had long been his “dream,” prompting his club, Gloucester, to agree to his release. The NFL International Player Pathway provides elite athletes worldwide with the chance to earn a spot on an NFL roster.
Even Wales head coach Warren Gatland was caught off guard, learning of the news shortly before a scheduled press conference. “I found out about it about an hour ago,” Gatland remarked. “There’s never a dull moment in Welsh rugby. I spoke to Louis probably about half an hour ago. It’s a little bit of a shock. Things have unfolded rapidly in the last 24 hours.”
Gatland revealed that Rees-Zammit had received legal advice to keep the details confidential. The Wales head coach shared, “Louis mentioned that he received an approach on Sunday to participate in a training camp with the NFL. He called me to share this information and express gratitude for his time at the World Cup. Louis mentioned that it had always been his dream to potentially play in the NFL, and he believes that if he doesn’t seize this opportunity now, it might not come around again in the future.”
Wishing him well, Gatland emphasized his belief in players seizing opportunities. He discussed potential next steps with Rees-Zammit, stating that if the NFL venture doesn’t pan out, the winger can return to rugby. Rees-Zammit sees this as the opportune moment for a new challenge.
Having opted to skip rugby’s oldest international tournament, Rees-Zammit now looks to the future, hopeful that this detour will yield lasting rewards. Despite scoring a standout solo try for Gloucester against Edinburgh over the weekend, the British & Irish Lions winger is forgoing Wales’s pre-Six Nations camp to pursue a vastly different goal in Miami.
“It’s not about rugby; it’s about my ambition to fulfill a childhood dream and play in the National Football League,” shared Rees-Zammit with Gloucester’s website. Reflecting on his upbringing as a passionate NFL fan, influenced by his father’s love for American football, he expressed gratitude for the honor of playing rugby for his country as a proud Welshman. However, Rees-Zammit believes now is the right time to pursue another professional goal in American football, emphasizing the rarity of such opportunities.
Gloucester’s chief executive, Alex Brown, acknowledged the size of the opportunity and expressed the club’s best wishes. While saddened by his departure, the club recognizes they cannot dissuade him.
Despite the notable timing, coinciding with Wales’ opening Six Nations campaign against Scotland on February 3 at a sold-out Principality Stadium, Rees-Zammit’s decision is rooted in the upcoming 10-week training camp in Miami. This camp, crucial in determining his immediate future in gridiron, begins this month. Rees-Zammit has until April to prove his worth, and if selected for an NFL practice squad, he would join them in August.
The unexpected news of Rees-Zammit’s move overshadowed Gatland’s decision to appoint 21-year-old Dafydd Jenkins as captain, making him the second youngest Welshman to lead the country. The squad also sees a recall for James Botham, grandson of cricket legend Sir Ian Botham, and includes five uncapped players. Taulupe Faletau will miss the Six Nations due to a calf injury, along with Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake. Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, born in Cardiff, is also absent as he has expressed a desire to represent England.
On the Scottish front, the former England prop Alec Hepburn has been named in their Six Nations preliminary squad. The 30-year-old Exeter prop, having not played Test rugby for three years, is now eligible for Scotland through his Scottish-born father. Sale’s Arron Reed and Leicester’s Will Hurd have also been included, while British & Irish Lions Hamish Watson and Chris Harris did not make the cut.