After seven rounds of the Gallagher Premiership season and four rounds of European competition, few players have lit up rugby in the northern hemisphere like 18-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit.
The young Welshman is in his first year of professional rugby, having graduated from Gloucester’s junior academy and Hartpury College last season. Thanks to various injuries in the back line, Rees-Zammit has not been short of a game time in his debut season.
The wing is currently tied with Ben Earl atop the Premiership’s try scorers list having crossed the whitewash five times and he has not looked out of his depth at all, as Gloucester seek to consolidate their place in the tournament’s playoff positions.
He has been talked about as a bolter for Wayne Pivac’s Wales squad for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations and should he make that cut and receive his first senior cap, both the WRU and Gloucester have an interesting dilemma ahead of them.
Should Rees- Zammit be capped, he would be obligated to return to Wales at the conclusion of his current contract if he wishes to continue playing for Wales, provided a Welsh region made him an offer that was realistically comparable to what he was being offered outside of Wales. The only players exempt from this rule are those with 60 or more international caps.
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Exeter Chiefs tighthead Tomas Francis had exploited a loophole in this regulation, with his prolonged deals with Exeter deemed to be a contract extension, rather than a new contract, something that keeps him eligible for Welsh selection, despite not having yet met the 60-cap threshold.
In terms of Rees-Zammit, who is only on his first contract out of school, should that Wales cap come before Gloucester hand him a new deal, it would be unlikely that any extension at the club would follow suit with Francis, with the youngster likely eyeing a significant wage hike the next time he signs new terms.
The immediate consequence of this for Gloucester is whether or not to hand him a long-term contract that is more lucrative than the one he is on. This would see him locked down at Kingsholm for a number of years and not required to return to Wales until the end of the deal, at which point the current regulations may have changed or been scrapped altogether, with the WRU announcing earlier this year that the rule would be reviewed after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The other option is that Gloucester stay the course and hope that Rees-Zammit does not receive an early Wales cap come the Six Nations.
Ackerman has a suggestion for Wales and their new wunderkind
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The dilemma is reversed for Pivac and the WRU who may feel that Rees-Zammit is still too young for international rugby, but who could secure his future in Wales with an early cap, strengthening one of the regions moving forward and helping provide a positive return on the number of Welsh youngsters heading to English schools as teenagers.
Wales and the regions do not lack for resources on the wing, with the likes of George North and Josh Adams having made their way back across the Severn in recent years, as well as the rises of talents such as Owen Lane and Ryan Conbeer, although a player as potentially dynamic and explosive as Rees-Zammit represents a salivating option.
An early return to Wales would also ensure that the national team have full access to Rees-Zammit as he develops, rather than in England, where he would only be released during international windows, unless Gloucester were willing to receive a fine for releasing him outside of the window.
With his development continuing rapidly at the moment, both sides may be willing to carry on as is, although there is likely a flashpoint fast approaching, with the Six Nations just over a month away.
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