With the start of the Six Nations just a couple of weeks away and Wales naming their squad for the tournament this afternoon, flying winger Rees-Zammit stunningly announced that he is stepping away from rugby and joining the NFL’s International Player Pathway (IPP).
The 22-year-old burst on to the rugby scene as a teenager and has scored 14 tries in 31 caps for Wales, including five at last year’s Rugby World Cup, as well as becoming 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 to South Africa aged just 20 years and 93 days.
But his club Gloucester released a statement confirming his immediate departure and that he would move to Florida to try and make it as an NFL player.
“Gloucester Rugby have agreed to release winger Louis Rees-Zammit with immediate effect to enable the 22-year-old to pursue his dream of playing in the National Football League (NFL),” they said in a statement.
“The Welsh international has accepted an invitation to join the NFL International Player Pathway which provides elite athletes from around the world with an opportunity to earn a place on an NFL roster.”
Rees-Zammit also released a statement confirming that trying his hand at American football has been a long-held dream.
“In a move that I am extremely excited about, I can confirm that I will be joining the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program in pursuit of earning a spot on an NFL roster in the United States for 2024,” said Rees-Zammit.
“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.
“Although this decision may come as a surprise, I would like to reiterate that this does not necessarily mean I am retiring from rugby but at this age and stage of my life I am excited to explore a unique challenge that has the potential to diversify my skillset.
“My immense gratitude goes to Gloucester Rugby – a club that is extremely close to my heart – and particularly George Skivington (head coach) and Alex Brown (chief executive) for allowing me to head in a different direction over the next few weeks.
“My best wishes go to Wales for the upcoming Six Nations and the year ahead, while I will continue to closely follow the continued progress of Gloucester from afar.”
The IPP gives athletes from around the world the chance to earn a spot on an NFL roster and Rees-Zammit will leave the UK for Florida this week to begin the programme.
Wales coach Warren Gatland spoke of his surprise at the announcement when he named his squad for the Six Nations.
“I learned it about an hour ago,” said Gatland. “Spoke to Louis about half an hour ago. It’s a little bit of a shock. Things have happened pretty quickly.
“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’s 22, he’s always dreamed of playing in the NFL. He feels if he doesn’t take that opportunity now, it might not come up again. 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.
“There’s never a dull moment in Welsh rugby! Gloucester are in exactly the same boat as us. It’s 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.”