Louis Rees-Zammit is the talk of rugby as a Welsh superstar for the modern age emerges

Imagine how the post-match chat would have gone in pubs on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh had Welsh supporters been allowed to travel north over the weekend.

“We’re still not winning enough ball, but that Rees-Zammit is in a class of his own. Reminds me a bit of JJ with his kick and chase.”

The late JJ Williams would have considered such a remark a compliment.

In truth, the comparison stretches only so far.

Williams had gas and so does Rees-Zammit, but whereas the all-time Wales great used to scorch past defenders as he raced after his own kicks ahead, the new boy eats up ground with an easy, gliding running style.

When Williams scored a try, it was like a flaming arrow striking at the heart of the opposition.

When Rees-Zammit completed his touchdown brace against Scotland, it was, to adapt an old line once applied to the footballer Jimmy Greaves, akin to closing the door on a Rolls Royce, so smooth was the whole process.

Quality screamed out.

Back on the Royal Mile in our alternative world last Saturday, by 10pm there doubtless there would have been a red-clad individual, vocal chords under severe strain, who’d have adapted the old Max Boyce line and swapped five photos of his wife for one of Rees-Zammit.

Playfully, LRZ’s pal Ioan Lloyd tweeted after the game in Scotland: “Zam for prime minister.”

How good was the 20-year-old at Murrayfield?

So good he has now come in to just 6/4 to make the Lions tour of South Africa. He bettered Duhan van der Merwe last weekend and earned plaudits after facing James Lowe six days earlier. If he wins his duel with Jonny May in Cardiff a week on Saturday, there’ll be heightened pressure on Warren Gatland to include him in his party for the trip south.

Those searching for comparisons with past players will come up short.

But that’s surely not a problem. The youngster is no retread; what we are seeing is the emergence of an elite wing for the modern age, one who is big, powerful and able to beat defenders with effortless acceleration or a step or both.

Wales are evidently keen to play down expectations on one so young, with coach Wayne Pivac saying after the game in Scotland: “He was exciting with the ball, took his opportunities and played very well with ball in hand.

“But he still has work to do on his game and that’s the exciting thing, without the ball.

“He has confidence with ball in hand; he has pace you can’t coach. He’s very quick and took his opportunity really well.

“The skill with the kick he put in towards the end was magnificent.

“He’ll keep improving each week, work hard at his game and improve again.”

Louis Rees-Zammit of Wales dives over to score a try against Scotland

The kick Pivac referred to was a banana kick that flew from one 22 to another to ease the pressure on Wales as Scotland tried to wrest the initiative back from them. It was the rugby equivalent of something the Brazil football team might have produced circa 1970.

It would have been the skill of the game had Rees-Zammit not come up with his wonderful second touchdown, involving rapid pace, vision and footballing ability as he chipped ahead. One bounce and that was it, let’s go for a coffee.

To judge the kick to perfection while moving at such speed hinted at rare technical ability indeed.

But Pivac is right to emphasis there is still much for the Gloucester player to learn. He was implicated in the defensive botch-up that allowed Stuart Hogg to cross for his first try, with TV analysis suggesting he’d been out of position, putting pressure on Leigh Halfpenny as the full-back tried in vain to deal with a loose ball.

Such is rugby.

No player arrives on the scene as the finished article, even though the hype around LRZ might now suggest he is the exception to the rule. He’s not, and there’ll be glitches to come as he smooths the creases in his game.

The good news is he appears to recognise how much scope he has to improve, speaking with impressive maturity to the BBC in an interview last week about how he and his coaches have made a conscious effort to improve his speed this season.

What’s also striking is that he doesn’t appear to have an ego.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for him to get carried away by all the praise that’s come his way over the past week or so, but he doesn’t seem to want to go there, displaying a modesty that’s refreshing.

Writing about him in The Rugby Paper in September, Shane Williams, Rees-Zammit’s boyhood hero, said: “I had the pleasure of being involved in a podcast with Louis Rees-Zammit the other day and I have to admit I was bowled over by his confidence, level-headedness and desire to make it at the top level of the game.

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“Sometimes you just know from the body language, the look in the eyes and the talk that a player is on the right track.

“He may still be a teenager, but he looks the real deal.”

Track back to the Cwmtawe Sevens in the late 1990s, when Williams was himself breaking through. The Amman Valley product was with his mates, enjoying a day out at one of the great social events in the Welsh rugby calendar, but there was a confidence and assurance about him that suggested he’d come through. That’s what natural talent does for a player.

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The question for this piece was how good can Rees-Zammit become.

It’s up to him, really.

Williams developed into a world-class player partly through his heaven-sent gifts but also because he worked at his game. He bulked up, improved his defence and developed his on-pitch awareness. By the time he ripped Argentina to pieces with a try hat-trick in Buenos Aires in 2004, he’d become close to unmarkable.

George North has also recognised the importance of hard graft, with the big man even today striving to get better as a player, improving his work without the ball.

As they say, even Mozart had to put in the hours.

One more thing.

In a social-media age where last week’s hero can quickly become next week’s zero with all the stinging words that accompany such a journey, Rees-Zammit faces different challenges from Williams and others once considered the next big thing, such as Scott Gibbs, Neil Jenkins and James Hook.

But that he’s a class act isn’t in doubt.

“Hopefully, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said after Saturday’s game.

“I don’t want to heap pressure on him. I want him to continue in similar vein.”

Wise words.

Rees-Zammit seems bright enough to take them on board.


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