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Warren Gatland: I only found out about Louis Rees-Zammit to NFL an hour before naming Wales Six Nations squad

Gatland: "I learned of it an hour ago. Spoke to Louis about a half hour ago. It's a little bit of a shock. Things have happened quickly. Louis had an approach on Sunday to do a training camp with the NFL. He slept on it on Monday. He was told not to tell anyone. It's been a rollercoaster"

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Warren Gatland spoke to media at his Wales Six Nations squad announcement, revealing the timeline of Louis Rees-Zammit departing rugby

Warren Gatland has revealed he only found out Louis Rees-Zammit was leaving rugby to pursue an NFL career an hour before he announced his 2024 Wales Six Nations squad, and that first contact about the move only came on Sunday.

Rees-Zammit, who has been a pivotal performer for Wales since breaking into the side in 2020 - scoring 14 tries in 31 Tests and touring with the British and Irish Lions in 2021 - announced his shock decision via X (formerly Twitter), moments before Wales' squad dropped.

The 22-year-old wing scored five tries in five fixtures for Wales at the Rugby World Cup in France in September and October, and played for club Gloucester as recently as Saturday vs Edinburgh in the European Challenge Cup, scoring a try, with no imminent link to the dramatic career change until the player's announcement.

Speaking in response to the news, Gatland told his Tuesday press conference: "I learned of it an hour ago. Spoke to Louis (Rees-Zammit) about a half hour ago. It's a little bit of a shock.


"I spoke to George Skivington [Gloucester head coach] at midday and things have happened quickly. Louis had an approach on Sunday to go and do a training camp with the NFL.

"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 in the last couple of hours. He rang me to let me know and give me that information, and to say thanks very much for his time at the World Cup and how he enjoyed it.

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"He said he's always dreamed of potentially playing in the NFL and he feels if he doesn't take this opportunity that it might not happen in the future.

Image: The 22-year-old wing has been a massive player for Wales over recent years, and a huge attacking spark

"I just 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'd come back to rugby.

"He just feels there's an opportunity for him and a time to do that. There's never a dull moment in Welsh rugby.

"This was thrown to us late. Gloucester are in exactly the same boat as us. They'd only just gone to the board. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster in the last couple of hours."

Gatland, Rees-Zammit
Image: Gatland coaches Rees-Zammit at Wales and with the British and Irish Lions in 2021

The news is a particular blow to Gatland and Wales, with a number of experienced players having already departed the set-up over the last 12 months.

Fly-half Dan Biggar and full-back Leigh Halfpenny retired since the World Cup, and back-three Liam Williams moved to play club rugby in Japan. Second row Alun Wyn Jones and back-row Justin Tipuric retired before the tournament.

Wales also have a number of injuries at present to talented back-row Jac Morgan, who was named co-captain of Wales at the World Cup and will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury, hooker Ken Owens (back), No 8 Taulupe Faletau (arm), back-row/lock Christ Tshiunza (foot) and hooker Dewi Lake (hamstring).

A further blow saw Exeter's exciting Cardiff-born-and-raised 21-year-old wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso not in the squad amid rumours he will declare to play for Steve Borthwick's England.

Image: Gatland's squad deals with a number of retirements, injuries and Rees-Zammit leaving the sport

Gatland has picked 21-year-old second row Dafydd Jenkins to captain an inexperienced squad which has an average age of 25, five uncapped players, and further eight in line to make their Six Nations debuts.

Rees-Zammit said: "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."

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