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The Louis Rees-Zammit interview: I was devastated after Wales v England and couldn’t sleep for two days

Framed in the now all-too-familiar visuals of a Zoom call, Louis Rees-Zammit is midway through an answer when an unexpected visitor bursts into shot.

“The kid’s rapid!” beams Paul ‘Bobby’ Stridgeon, Wales’ head of physical performance.

As each week passes, more and more are quickly realising that.

The 20-year-old’s fan base is growing hand over fist and shows no sign of slowing down.

Wayne Pivac’s own teenage stepdaughters are fans of Rees-Zammit, while he’s also something of a hit on video-sharing social media site TikTok.

The platform has been awash with young fans going wild over Welsh rugby’s newest poster boy.

For the young man, it’s all uncharted territory.

When asked about his social media following, he admits: “It all started from the Ireland game and it kind of blew up on TikTok.”

His somewhat relieved reaction following Liam Williams’ try against England, with eyes wide open and brows raised high, even went viral on social media after being transformed into a GIF.

“I didn’t know if it was going to be a try or not and obviously the cameras caught me at an awkward time. Thankfully we scored.

“I haven’t been able to keep on top of everything. I just try to focus on my game and not focus on social media too much.”

Focusing on his game hasn’t gone too badly for the Gloucester flyer.

Three tries in as many matches have catapulted Rees-Zammit into the limelight that he was, in fairness, expected to inhabit sooner rather than later. It’s also helped Wales to a Triple Crown and a tilt at a Grand Slam.

Just two matches stand between Wales and another clean sweep, their last coming in 2019. Many in Wales’ squad have been here before, but for Rees-Zammit, it’s the first crack of the whip when it comes to chasing Six Nations silverware.

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His experiences of Wales’ recent successes are somewhat different to his team-mates.

While current captain Alun Wyn Jones was celebrating a comeback victory over England in 2008 which set in motion his first Grand Slam, Rees-Zammit was blowing out seven candles on his birthday cake.

By the time of Jones’ second Slam, Rees-Zammit was in his final year of primary school for those not yet feeling old.

And when Jones was celebrating his third clean sweep in the Cardiff rain two years ago, Rees-Zammit was there in the Principality Stadium crowd.

“I remember being at the stadium watching with my mum and dad,” recalls Rees-Zammit.

“I don’t know if I’d actually made my debut then but I was definitely watching at the stadium.

“I was at the England game too, in the top of the stands when Jadsy [Josh Adams] scored in the corner celebrating.

“Two years ago I would never have thought this would be the situation I’d be in, but I am, so I have to live in it and show everyone what I’m about and hopefully perform this weekend.

“I only live 10 minutes away from the stadium, so I’ve gone since I was a kid really with my parents. I couldn’t tell you how many games, but loads. I’ve grown up supporting Wales and now, it’s brilliant.

“The England game means a little bit more to beat England at home, but Ireland, winning the Grand Slam was definitely an amazing achievement for Welsh rugby.

“It has all come very fast and I’m loving it, to be honest.”

Being in the squad with players he’d grown up watching is some learning experience. Leaning on the old heads isn’t a bad thing for the young man to do.

“They’ve just said to me: ‘work on your own game, it will come together eventually’.

“There are so many capped players in the backline and they have helped me out massively both in attack and defence.

“We’ve worked hard to get into this position and we’re really looking forward to this weekend.”

While gratefully received, you’d imagine Rees-Zammit doesn’t require too many words of wisdom from his older peers. He carries himself in a way that belies his age, confident enough to do what he does week in, week out without ever straying into arrogance.

“I’m quite a chilled out guy,” he admits.

“I’m not too confident or too shy or anything like that so they haven’t really had that chat with me because they know I wouldn’t go to that extent.

“We’re all a really tight group. We trained three times this week just to tick over.

“It has been quite a chilled week. There’s not too much pressure at all.

“We’re not really listening to the outside. We’re just trying to keep it all in our camp really.”

With that, talk turns to his favourite part of the game. The answer is immediate.

“Attack!” he replies without a moment of hesitation.

“When I get the ball in my hands, trying to create something – trying to do something every time I get the ball is my goal.

“I was devastated last weekend [against England] that I didn’t score late on. I couldn’t sleep for two days afterwards.

“Every time I tried to fall asleep I would think about that ball, how it didn’t bounce up for me or how I tried to kick it. I was absolutely devastated.

“I know those moments are going to come a lot in my career and I’ve just got to move onto the next job. With the bounce of the ball it’s a tough one, but other things like diving into the corner or the kicks over the top you can practice.”

Thankfully, now he’s over it. The fact that Cory Hill scored from the resultant scrum, capping off one of Wales’ most resounding victories over England in recent memory, probably helped.

Speaking of England, did he get a chance to speak to Eddie Jones after the match in Cardiff, given how the England coach had been keen on him pulling on the red rose?

“I didn’t get a chance to speak to him after the England game, obviously with the Covid-19 stuff you can’t get close to anyone,” he admitted.

“On the phone it was just a brief chat, nothing more than that.”

Was there ever any doubt he’d choose Wales over England? The defiant shake of the head says it all.

With that, the Rees-Zammit fan club just grew a little more in these parts.

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