Louis Rees-Zammit revealed NFL dream in SUMMER as Zach Mercer expects Welsh flyer to ‘rip it open’ at Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Spink
Louis Rees-Zammit hailed by former Gloucester team-mate Zach Mercer.

Louis Rees-Zammit hailed by former Gloucester team-mate Zach Mercer.

Louis Rees-Zammit told Gloucester last summer the only reason he would leave the club was for a career in American football – and they did not take it seriously.

Ahead of Friday’s EPCR Challenge Cup final against the Sharks, Cherry and Whites boss George Skivington admitted to being aware of the Wales star’s NFL dream long before he asked to be released, with immediate effect, in January.

“Zam mentioned to me in the summer the only reason he’d leave Gloucester would be for the NFL,” Skivington revealed to Planet Rugby. “I took it with a pinch of salt.

Out of the blue

“Then that happened out of the blue. It was a bizarre 24 hours, very much crash, bang, see you later. I probably had a couple of hours more notice than [Wales head coach] Warren [Gatland] but I think we were equally shocked.”

Rees-Zammit, 23, had accepted an invitation to join the NFL International Player Pathway programme from where, sensationally, he was signed by Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs.

Without him Gloucester must tame a Sharks side boasting the pace of World Cup winner Makazole Mapimpi if they are to win a third Challenge Cup.

Zach Mercer describes Rees-Zammit as a “massive loss” for a club which finished the Premiership season second bottom, but sees clear similarities with the career decision he made at the same age.

“He could have stayed here at Gloucester and been a legend and been comfortable where he was,” said the number eight. “But he wanted to get out of his comfort zone. It’s like when I went to France.

“It was really unheard of for someone at such a young age to go there,” continued Mercer, who had two England caps when he signed as a 23-year-old to play for Montpellier in the Top 14.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone too. Obviously Zam has gone completely out of his by moving to a different sport and a massively different country.

“But I think it is brilliant to see a guy at such a young age grab it by the horns and go ‘do you know what, I’m going to go experience something different, go test myself and see how I get on’.

“I know he got a bit of a hard time for a comment he made recently with regards to ‘having achieved everything in rugby’, but the guy has.

“He’s played for the British and Irish Lions, he’s played for Wales and he’s been the best in his position for a long time.

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“Obviously we’d love for him to be there at Tottenham, he’s a massive loss for us, but we can’t wait for him to rip it open. All he needs is one opportunity and I’m sure he’ll take it.”

Mercer made a huge success of his time out of the English Premiership, not only winning the French Top 14 but the league’s player of the year award.

Which only compounds his frustration at being ignored by England since returning home with the clear ambition of again wearing the Red Rose.

Dark point in life

“I left a place in France, which I loved and where I was very highly thought of, to come back to England and have a crack,” he said. “It didn’t happen and then to get injured, everything seemed to be dark at that point in my life.

“I played 60 games in two years in France without injury, yet two games in here I picked up a serious ankle injury which required an operation.

“Being one of the biggest signings for Gloucester, I wanted to prove to the Shed, prove to the coaches and playing group what I can bring. Not being able to do that for a while really did mentally test me.

“It definitely crossed my mind that I had made a mistake in coming back, especially during those dark days of injury.

“But what I told myself was I didn’t just come back for rugby, I came back for family, for my wife and my baby, so our families could be near to share precious moments with their grandchild.”

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