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Gatland says door is open for Welsh speedster if NFL dream sours

Updated: 2024-01-25 09:44
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Gloucester and Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit made the shock decision to leave rugby union with immediate effect last week, to pursue his dream of a career in American Football. Rees-Zammit's bombshell announcement came on the day Wales head coach Warren Gatland unveiled his squad for the forthcoming Six Nations tournament. AFP

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

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 to pursue the "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 rugby world by announcing he was heading to Florida to join the NFL's International Player Pathway program — which allows athletes based outside the United States to forge a gridiron career — signing up as a running back.

Gatland was taken aback by Rees-Zammit's move but, having had time to reflect on the decision, said Monday: "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 you find a different pathway."

Rees-Zammit, who scored five tries for Wales at last year's World Cup, 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.

Wade warning

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.

"Getting the phone call from the Bills was one of the best days of my life, but once I was in there, reality struck," 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 is definitely going to be lonely."

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

"If it doesn't work out for him, the door will potentially be 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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