Rugby: Wales star Louis Rees-Zammit quits national squad to pursue American football career

Louis Rees-Zammit in action for Wales.
Louis Rees-Zammit in action for Wales. Photo credit: Getty Images

Louis Rees-Zammit has quit Wales' Six Nations Championship squad an hour before it was announced to pursue a career in American football, a shock for coach Warren Gatland, as he named a young squad featuring five uncapped players.

Rees-Zammit, 22, will join the NFL International Player Pathway (IPP) and turn his back on rugby, a massive blow to Gatland to lose a versatile player, who would likely have been a key figure for the next decade.

"I have had the incredible honour of playing rugby for my country, which - as a proud Welshman - I've never taken for granted," said Rees-Zammit.

"However, 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."

Gatland admits he was blindsided by the news.

"I learned it about an hour ago, spoke to Louis about half an hour ago," he said. "It's a little bit of a shock.

"Louis said he had an approach on Sunday. It's something he's always dreamed of.

"The paperwork has been agreed and signed, and Gloucester have agreed to release him.

"He rang me to give me that information, thank me for his time at the World Cup. He feels, if he doesn't take that opportunity now, it might not come up.

"I wished him all the best. I asked him what are his next steps if it doesn't work out, he said he'd come back."

Rees-Zammit made his debut for Wales in 2020 against France, aged 18, and scored his first international try against Georgia later that year. He toured South Africa with the British & Irish Lions in 2021, without cracking the test side, and helped Wales to the World Cup quarter-finals last year.

Lock Dafydd Jenkins, 21, will become the second youngest player - after Gareth Edwards at 20 in 1968 - to captain Wales, when he leads them in the Six Nations.

Wales coach Warren Gatland.
Wales coach Warren Gatland. Photo credit: Getty Images

Back rows Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin, hooker Evan Lloyd, tighthead prop Archie Griffin and full-back Cameron Winnett are the players who could make their international debuts in the tournament.

There is no sign of Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, who has been courted by Gatland, but is expected to be announced in England's squad.

Centre Owen Watkin and back row James Botham have been recalled, with co-captain at last year's Rugby World Cup in France, Jac Morgan, expected to miss the entire tournament through injury.

There is also no place for Taulupe Faletau, who has not played since he broke his arm at the World Cup, in a squad that has an average age of 25.

"There's a little bit of experience in terms of players like George North and Gareth Davies," said Gatland. "We wanted a little bit of continuity with that, and we're also thinking about the next World Cup cycle and giving some youngsters an opportunity, some youngsters that are not featuring regularly for their club sides."

Wales start their campaign at home to Scotland on February 3.