rugby-union

Louis Rees-Zammit's rugby career in stats: Why NFL Super Bowl winners Kansas City Chiefs wanted Wales flyer

Louis Rees-Zammit has signed for NFL Super Bowl winners, the Kansas City Chiefs. We look at the stats from his professional rugby career to see why the 23-year-old talent caught their eye.

Having only turned 23 last month, Rees-Zammit departed rugby with a tremendous reputation and strike rate, scoring 38 tries in 69 appearances for Gloucester, and 14 tries in 31 Test caps for Wales, touring with the British and Irish Lions in 2021.

The Welshman's move to the Chiefs will see him link up with the NFL's premier quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has been the Super Bowl MVP for the last two seasons.

Rees-Zammit impressed at last week's combine for the international players on his programme, running a 40-yard dash in a time of 4.43 seconds in front of watching scouts. Such a time would have put him fifth among running back prospects at this year's NFL Combine, and tied-10th among wide receiver prospects.

Put simply, he's very quick. And we've seen it...

When the 2019/20 Premiership season began, Rees-Zammit was just 18 years old and had just six minutes of professional rugby experience.

By the end of that campaign, Rees-Zammit was the talk of the league, taking the Premiership by storm in a way incredibly rare for a player so young. Rugby players ordinarily develop and break through far later than Premier League footballers, owing to the physical demands of the sport.

Rees-Zammit's superpower from out wide on the wing was his pace and ability to finish scores. He made 22 clean linebreaks in the Premiership, placing in the top eight of all players in the league in his debut campaign.

He scored 10 tries in the division, placing him second, while he scored 15 tries in 17 starts in all competitions - a remarkable strike rate.

International rugby had taken notice, and the hugely talented and potent Rees-Zammit's trajectory was only heading one way...

Having made his Test debut for Wales in October 2020 at 19 years of age, going on to score his first try against Georgia in November, Rees-Zammit's reputation in rugby reached worldwide prominence during the 2021 Six Nations.

The wing was almost unstoppable for defenders during the championship, making a tournament-high nine clean linebreaks, carrying for some 354 metres, gaining 267 metres and scoring four tries in five Six Nations games en route to an unlikely Wales title success.

Indeed, Wales would certainly not have lifted silverware without him, as he scored crucial winning tries at home to Ireland and away to Scotland in Tests they were outplayed in, playing the full 80 minutes across all five fixtures.

His form was so good, he toured with the British and Irish Lions to South Africa that July - an accomplishment considered by most rugby players to be the ultimate achievement. And Rees-Zammit did so as a 20-year-old.

After a remarkable first two years of professional rugby, 2022 and 2023 proved more injury-prone for the lightning-fast wing.

Prior to Wales' 2022 Six Nations opener away to Ireland, Rees-Zammit went down with a right ankle complaint in the warm-up. He was strapped up and played, but was barely in the game as Ireland romped to victory.

He started the following week against Scotland in another defeat, but then fell out of the side and missed two fixtures, before returning for the final game against Italy.

Despite missing two games, Rees-Zammit still made three clean linebreaks in the championship, and carried for 222 metres, continuing to display his threat with ball in hand.

He also further enhanced the view of him worldwide when he scored twice for Wales on their 2022 summer tour to world champions South Africa.

In 2023, Rees-Zammit was sidelined ahead of the Six Nations with a far more serious ankle injury - his left this time - having suffered a hip injury just prior.

He missed Wales' opening two matches, before making a try-scoring return against England in Round 3. He then began on the bench against Italy, and finished the championship starting away in France.

Despite only two starts in the 2023 tournament, his stats still stood out: carrying for 274 metres, gaining 229 metres and making three clean linebreaks.

Rees-Zammit was still just 22 when he travelled with Wales to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Injury-free, the wing raced to five tries in five appearances before Wales were knocked out by Argentina in the quarters.

He returned to his club Gloucester, playing through November, December and a fixture in January, before shocking the world of rugby with his abrupt retirement from the sport to prepare for and travel to the NFL's international player pathway programme.

Rees-Zammit's announcement came on the same day Wales announced their 2024 Six Nations squad, with head coach Warren Gatland revealing he only found out an hour before.

"I learned of it an hour ago," said Gatland. "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 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.

"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."

Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Aden Durde has backed Rees-Zammit to break through in the NFL.

"I definitely think he's got a chance," said Durde, the first British coordinator in NFL history, on Sky Sports News.

"It's the process of going through this is the hardest but it's the best thing.

"When you go through this, it's how you develop, it's how you start learning the game, how you understand the different phases of the game.

"It's a complicated sport, but once he simplifies it, that's when his athletic talents will take over and you'll see the player he can possibly become."

In terms of what's next, the NFL off-season workouts begin in April, with rookie training camps starting the following month. Full training camp begins in July before teams usually confirm their final 53-player rosters by the end of August, with the new season beginning on September 5.

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