The former Gloucester wing has joined Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs


It’s always a dangerous premise to speak on behalf of Wales in its entirety. Especially the whole of Welsh rugby social media. In fact, by the time you read this column the author may well be whimpering over the smouldering remains of his family home.

However, the majority of Welsh rugby does seem to be proud of Louis Rees-Zammit’s NFL journey. This isn’t to say that his initial jump out of rugby union didn’t come as a shock, it did. On the same morning as Welsh supporters were expecting him to be part of Warren Gatland’s Six Nations squad, we found out he was off to the USA. Welsh people haven’t had that guttural a reaction to news since the first gas bill hikes in 2021.

Related: How the new NFL kick-off rules can help Louis Rees-Zammit’s transition

Welsh rugby supporters are of course used to their best players leaving for foreign shores. Some still regard England as a far and distant land, a location to which plenty of Welsh players have departed and succeeded – and will rightly continue to do so. Stacks of Welsh players moved to France in the mid 2010s, some have moved to Japan and Wales also has a few currently playing in Super Rugby.

But there have been periods in Welsh rugby where moves to other codes/sports haven’t been received so well. We are of course talking about the migration of amateur rugby players ‘north’ to professional rugby league in the 1980s and 1990s. A move which whilst making every Welsh rugby supporter queasy, also made us all switch on the Challenge Cup final in our droves. 

But LRZ’s move to the NFL feels different to all of the above. His move to American football feels like he’s moved to a different planet and a different sporting solar system. While there are some NFL fans in Wales, it’s still a niche sport and you’re just as likely to see someone riding a unicycle through a park in Cardiff as you are someone ‘lacing’ an American Football to one of their mates.

Before we discuss LRZ’s move to the Kansas City Chiefs in any further detail, we must discuss how difficult a journey lies ahead of the former wing/full-back.  For those of us whose understanding of the NFL comes from watching the Super Bowl every year (and a solid 20 years of playing the video game Madden NFL in its various guises since 1988), the process of actually playing in the NFL is even more complicated than some of the plays.

Whereas in rugby you sign for a team, and then play for that team, that is not the case in the NFL. The process is far more refined, and involves the recruits being sieved more times than buckwheat at a gastro pub. 

Even though LRZ has been all over the Kansas City Chiefs’ social media (wearing their colours), he still apparently has a minuscule chance of jumping the existing queue of running backs and wide receivers. Who have after all been gearing up for their chance in the NFL for 15 years plus – not 15 weeks.

American football is obviously very different to rugby in its execution, but in some ways the route into the upper levels of the sport is even more unique. If you’ve ever watched any of the American football documentaries on Netflix, you’ll know just how many American athletes dedicate their entire being just to get into a tier one university, never mind play professionally. 

It is possibly this difficulty of success, and the fact that it is a world away from rugby, that makes the people of Wales so proud of what LRZ is attempting to achieve. It’s almost like we see him as more of an export of which to be proud, like our PGI Welsh Lamb or Halen Mon Salt.

It may of course be that the NFL is using LRZ as a marketing tool to broaden appeal in the UK market and more particularly with UK based rugby fans – it wouldn’t be the first time that a geographically limited sport has tried that. But even if they are indeed doing that, it’s fantastic that they’ve chosen a Welsh athlete with which to do it.

However, if I know Welsh people, and I do, there’s a far greater purpose for LRZ that none of us are talking about openly. Even if the LRZ NFL road does end abruptly, we’re secretly hoping that he spreads the word of Welsh rugby amongst those other 6ft 3in, 4.5 second running, 16st freaks who don’t make it into the NFL.

And instead, could warm to the idea of a four-year deal playing inside-centre with the Ospreys, complete with a four bedroom house overlooking Mumbles. Or failing that, LRZ falls in love with a 6ft 8inch power forward from the Kansas Jayhawks and brings home a baby who is potentially 7ft tall and can run a 40m in under 4.2 seconds. 

Either way, we’re all proud and weirdly excited. Pob lwc, Louis. We’re all behind you, for varying reasons.

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