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Louis Rees-Zammit has made the surprising decision to leave the sport of rugby in order to chase his dream of playing in the NFL.
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Louis Rees-Zammit has made the surprising decision to leave the sport of rugby in order to chase his dream of playing in the NFL.

Louis Rees-Zammit, the Welsh winger, has surprised the rugby community by declaring a switch to American football just before the start of the Six Nations. The 22-year-old dropped the bombshell news right before the announcement of the Wales squad and will be departing for Florida this week to join the NFL’s International Player Pathway.

Except for transferring from one code to another in rugby league, there have been very few instances of international players leaving rugby to pursue a different sport. Rees-Zammit expressed his long-standing desire to play in the NFL and his team, Gloucester, has given him permission to do so. The NFL International Player Pathway allows exceptional athletes from various countries the chance to secure a spot on an NFL team.

Warren Gatland, the head coach of Wales, was only made aware of the news a short while before his planned press conference at lunchtime. “I found out about an hour ago,” Gatland stated. “Welsh rugby is always full of surprises. I spoke to Louis around thirty minutes ago. It’s quite unexpected. A lot has happened in the past 24 hours.”

Gatland stated that Rees-Zammit had been instructed by his legal team to not disclose any information to anyone. The Wales head coach shared that on Sunday, Rees-Zammit had received an invitation to attend an NFL training camp. He personally called me to inform me of this and to express his gratitude for his experience at the World Cup. He mentioned that it has always been his dream to potentially play in the NFL and believes that if he doesn’t seize this chance now, it may not come around again in the future.

“I expressed my well wishes for him. I’ve always believed in players seizing the opportunities that come their way. I asked him what his plans were if things didn’t work out, and he mentioned returning to rugby. He believes that there’s a chance for him to do so now.”

Rees-Zammit’s decision to forgo participating in the oldest rugby international tournament may have long-term benefits. The winger for the British & Irish Lions recently scored an impressive individual try for Gloucester against Edinburgh. However, instead of joining the pre-Six Nations camp for Wales, he will be traveling to Miami to focus on a different goal.

“I am not talking about rugby, but rather my determination to achieve my dream of playing in the National Football League,” Rees-Zammit said in an interview with Gloucester’s website. “Since I was a young boy, my dad instilled in me a passion for NFL. He used to play American football, which was his favorite sport growing up.”

“I have been fortunate enough to represent my country in the sport of rugby, something that I, as a proud Welshman, have always cherished. However, I feel that now is the appropriate time for me to pursue another professional aspiration of playing American football in the United States. Such opportunities are rare.”

The CEO of Gloucester, Alex Brown, expressed his best wishes for the departing member. “We recognize the magnitude of this opportunity. Although we are disappointed to see him go, ultimately, we cannot persuade him to stay.”

The timing is significant, as Wales will kick off their Six Nations journey against Scotland at a sold-out Principality Stadium on February 3rd. Rees-Zammit explains that the 10-week training camp in Miami, which will determine if he has a future in gridiron, starts this month. He has until April to showcase his abilities and, if chosen for an NFL practice squad, would join them in August.

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Numerous rugby athletes have attempted to transition to American football throughout the years, with the latest being Christian Wade. Despite making it onto the Buffalo Bills’ pre-season roster in 2019, he did not get the opportunity to play in a regular season NFL game. He has since gone back to playing rugby with Racing 92 in France.

Rees-Zammit’s unexpected performance overshadowed Gatland’s decision to choose 21-year-old Dafydd Jenkins from Exeter as captain, making him the second youngest Welshman to lead the team. James Botham, grandson of cricket legend Sir Ian Botham, returns to the back row along with five new players: Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Evan Lloyd, Cameron Winnett from Cardiff, and Archie Griffin from Bath. Unfortunately, experienced player Taulupe Faletau will miss the Six Nations due to a calf injury, and Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake will also be absent. Additionally, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, a wing from Exeter born in Cardiff, will not be playing as he has expressed his desire to represent England instead.

The preliminary squad for the Six Nations includes former England prop Alec Hepburn, who is now eligible to play for Scotland due to his Scottish-born father. Hepburn, who is 30 years old and currently playing for Exeter, earned six caps for England in 2018 but has not played Test rugby in three years. Other players included in the squad are Sale’s speedy former England U20 winger Arron Reed and Leicester’s Will Hurd, who plays tight-head prop. However, there is no place for recent British & Irish Lions players Hamish Watson and Chris Harris.

Source: theguardian.com