Louis Rees-Zammit was the talk of the town ahead of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations but head coach Wayne Pivac refrained from chucking him straight in at the deep end, preferring to wait until he was sure the winger was ready. What a decision that has proven to be.
Rees-Zammit’s first proper Championship has finished with four tries, a Player of the Round award and the Guinness Six Nations title, proving that all the talk was merited.
Making his maiden appearance in Round 1, Rees-Zammit made an immediate impact with a spectacular finish in the corner during a 21-16 win against Ireland in Cardiff.
Trailing by two points, Wales were piling on the pressure as the game reached the hour mark, with scrum-half Gareth Davies playing the ball from the ruck just metres from the Irish try line.
Quick as a flash, the ball went from Davies, to George North, to Leigh Halfpenny and finally into the hands of Rees-Zammit, with the whitewash at his mercy.
He showed a great burst of acceleration and despite the efforts of Tadhg Furlong on the line, managed to acrobatically ground the ball while keeping himself out of touch, to give Wales a lead they never surrendered.
That set the tone for what was to come.
If that peaked the public’s curiosity, then a week later he had their full attention with another match-winning display against Scotland at BT Murrayfield.
His team’s afternoon started badly as Scotland raced out of the traps to take a 17-3 lead through tries from Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg.
But Rees-Zammit reduced the gap at half-time with his first try of the day, finishing off a flat Nick Tompkins pass in the right corner by cutting back inside a defender.
The game then flipped on its head in the second half, with Rees-Zammit playing a delightful pass to set up Liam Williams’ try, before Scotland had Zander Fagerson sent off.
Wyn Jones burrowed over for Wales but Hogg regained the lead for Scotland 15 minutes from the end. However, Rees-Zammit had the last word with the winning try ten minutes from time, by sprinting down the right, chipping over Hogg, sprinting clear and diving on the bouncing ball.
Speed and skill in abundance had fellow players and pundits alike gushing with praise, and the fans watching on at home were certainly impressed.
“I’m loving playing on this sort of stage,” he said. And we were loving it too.
England were the first side to stop Rees-Zammit from scoring a try in this Championship but they could not stop Wales entirely, with the hosts winning 40-24 in a thrilling Round 3 encounter.
But he was soon back among the tries in Round 4, again displaying pace that few wingers in the world possess.
Wales, starting to dream of a Grand Slam, were at the top of their game in Rome as they put Italy to the sword in a 48-7 win.
Rees-Zammit carried for 157 metres but most of that came in eight seconds of blistering speed, as he leaped high to intercept a floated Carlo Canna pass inside his own 22 and then sprinted the length of the field to score.
Wales then went to France seeking a Grand Slam in Round 5 and Rees-Zammit almost secured it by scoring a spectacular try in the corner.
The Gloucester man acrobatically dotted down before going into touch but was ruled to have grounded the ball against the base of the corner flag, meaning it was out of play.
That decision proved significant, as France came back to win and deny Wales the Slam. However, Les Bleus’ defeat to Scotland ensured Rees-Zammit still finished as a champion.