Louis Rees-Zammit open to rugby return despite quitting to pursue NFL dream

Louis Rees-Zammit at Wales v Portugal match during 2023 Rugby World Cup Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit is leaving to pursue a career in the NFL (David Davies/PA)

Louis Rees-Zammit says he has not ruled out a rugby union return after dramatically quitting the sport to pursue a “once in a lifetime” opportunity of playing American football.

The Wales wing has been released by his club Gloucester with immediate effect to join the NFL international player pathway in the United States.

The bombshell announcement by Gloucester came as Wales head coach Warren Gatland was preparing to name his squad for the Six Nations Championship.

Rees-Zammit, an electrifying player who was a regular try-scorer for Gloucester, Wales and the British and Irish Lions, had become a box-office talent.

The 22-year-old would have been an integral part of Wales’ Six Nations campaign, with a place in Gatland’s squad guaranteed.

The squad announcement eventually came 45 minutes later than expected as Welsh rugby began getting to grips with losing one of its biggest names.

“Although this decision may come as a surprise, I would like to reiterate that this does not necessarily mean I am retiring from rugby,” Rees-Zammit said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“But rather at this age and stage of my life, I am excited to explore a unique challenge that has the potential to diversify my skill set.

“My best wishes go out to Wales for the upcoming Six Nations and year ahead, while I will continue to closely follow the continued progress of Gloucester from afar.

“To all my followers, fans and family, I thank you for your support, and look forward to having your backing throughout this next chapter.

“I would like to take this opportunity to announce a significant career decision that I have taken after careful consideration.

“In a move that I am extremely excited about, I can confirm that I will be joining the NFL’s International Player Pathway program (IPP) in pursuit of earning a spot on an NFL roster in the United States for 2024.

“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.”

In a statement released by Gloucester, Rees-Zammit added: “Gloucester Rugby has been a huge part of my life.

“From the start at Hartpury College and my first professional rugby contract with Gloucester in 2020, to my Wales and Lions caps, the club has been central to my development as a player, and I am so grateful for their support.

“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.”

The IPP takes place across a 10-week period ahead of the 2024 NFL season, which begins later this year.

Former England wing Christian Wade progressed from it to join the Buffalo Bills five years ago, but he did not play in a regular season game.

Gatland only knew of developments on Tuesday morning, and spoke to one of his star players before the Wales squad was announced.

“It’s a little bit of a shock,” Gatland said. “Gloucester had contacted us and I spoke to George Skivington (Gloucester head coach) about 12. Things have happened pretty quickly in the last 24 hours.

“Louis said he had an approach on Sunday to go and do a training camp with the NFL. It is something he has always dreamed of having the opportunity to do.

“He slept on it on Monday and went to Gloucester, didn’t really think too much of it in terms of whether it would go ahead. He was told by his lawyers not to tell anyone.

“The paperwork has been agreed and signed and Gloucester have agreed to release him. He rang me to let me know and give me that information, say thanks very much for his time at the World Cup and how he enjoyed it.

“He feels that if he doesn’t take that opportunity now, it might not happen again in the future.

“I wished him all the best. I’ve always been a great believer in players taking those opportunities that are presented for them.

“I said if it doesn’t work out, what are your next steps? He said he would come back to rugby.

“He just feels there is an opportunity for him and a time to do that. There is never a dull moment in Welsh rugby. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster in the last couple of hours.

“From my point of view, I want to wish Louis all the best. I honestly hope it all works out for him.”

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