During this year’s Six Nations, lightning did not strike twice. Whereas Louis Rees-Zammit blazed his way through his debut championship in 2021, he failed to score a try and was axed for Wales’s key match against England. His Gloucester director of rugby, George Skivington, sums up nicely the predicament the 21-year-old winger found himself in: “When you’re one of the poster boys of the game, everybody knows when you’ve been dropped.”
It represented a first major setback for Rees-Zammit, the youngest member of last year’s British & Irish Lions squad, but one that he dwelled on for all of five minutes. He does not lack for self‑belief, repeatedly insisting “I know what I can do”, but Skivington sees a more rounded player who still has considerable room to improve.
He has scored five Premiership tries this season – the same as last term – but a loss in form led to his high-profile omission from the Twickenham encounter and the suspicion that maybe not everything is coming as easy to Rees-Zammit as when he burst on to the scene.
“I get down on myself for about five minutes then I’m straight on my laptop to analyse and look at my game,” he says. “When I get dropped or play badly, I’ve just got to learn from it.
“It’s not really a confidence thing because I know what I can do – it’s just about doing your training then going out at the weekend and putting it all on show. Hopefully, I’ve done that pretty well. It hasn’t taken me too long.
“We found the team out, I wasn’t in it and I just talked to my close mates like Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies. They said to me: ‘We’ve all been here – go away and prove to the coaches why you should be in the team.’ That’s all I could do, because he [Wayne Pivac] wasn’t going to say: ‘Ah, you’re moaning about it, I’ll put you back in.’”
Rees-Zammit does not believe his loss of form was as a result of being targeted but he admits to having to stay patient and wait for his opportunities this season. In part that is because Gloucester have developed such a lethal weapon with their driving maul the ball does not always make its way to the wing but it has been mightily effective.
The Cherry and Whites hope to take a significant step closer to the Premiership playoffs by beating Bristol at Ashton Gate on Friday night. They were given a pre-match boost having moved into fifth place on Thursday after being awarded five points by an independent panel after the cancellation of their match against Worcester on 25 March.
“I probably haven’t had the ball as much as I did last year,” he says. “It’s probably just the way the team is playing – I have been working hard on my kick-chase and getting up for high balls. It is about staying patient and when I do get that opportunity I have got to back myself and hopefully take it.
“You probably see a lot of stuff about me off the field but my attention doesn’t change. I’m all focused on rugby and the spotlight doesn’t really affect me.”
Skivington, meanwhile, is delighted with Rees-Zammit’s recent form during back-to-back wins in the Challenge Cup, praising his “nitty-gritty” work as opposed to the headline-grabbing tries. It should be noted, however, that he produced one of those two minutes after coming off the bench against Northampton in his first appearance since losing his Wales place.
“They wanted me to try to get my hands on the ball more and work harder,” he says. “They wanted me to get in the positions to get the ball, by working off my wing. I went away, came off the bench against Northampton and got the ball in my hands after two minutes and scored. I tried to prove to the coaches why I should be in the team.”
He subsequently came off the bench in the narrow defeat by France and started the “embarrassing” loss to Italy but is set for a summer return to South Africa where he will hope to see more game time than with the Lions last year. Skivington, for his part, is convinced Rees-Zammit is no flash in the pan.
“He’s impressed me through that because he’s a young man and he’s had a very fast-tracked career so far and found himself on a British & Irish Lions series at 20,” he says. “That’s not how most people’s careers start off.
“That Six Nations period was the first time he’s had a real bump in the road and it was probably a bit of a shock. It’s quite a tough thing to deal with but I was really impressed with his attitude.”