Wing sensation Louis Rees-Zammit has the talent and mental strength to take a Wales call-up in his stride, says his former academy manager Wayne Thompson.
Former Bristol prop Thompson heads up Hartpury College’s junior section and first set eyes on Rees-Zammit when, as a 16-year-old, he left Cardiff to join the college’s ultra-successful education and rugby programme.
After following up a try-double against Worcester by becoming the first 18-year-old to score a top-flight hat-trick against Saints in last month, Welsh fans and media have been calling for his inclusion in Wayne Pivac’s Six Nations squad.
Thompson told The Rugby Paper: “This time last year, Louis was playing in our college team. It’s ridiculous to see how well he’s done since leaving us.
“But it doesn’t surprise me that he’s stepped up to the senior game in his position because when I saw clips of him before he came to our college at 16, he had a point of difference, which was his pace and physical size at that age.
“What Hartpury helped him with was honing his all-round skills as a back-three player, developing his technical side alongside his physical development, and since joining Gloucester it’s been more about opportunity – he’s had the chance to kick-on and taken it.”
Asked whether Rees-Zammit had the mentality to grasp a Test call, Thompson said: “I think he would and he’s showed at the highest stage of senior club rugby that he’s able to cope.
“Players at a young age don’t hold back, there’s nothing really for them to worry about and I think Louis is caught in that bubble of having the confidence to show what he can do. The offloads he’s shown and the little kicks through are all down to that.”
With Rees-Zammit’s 19th birthday falling the day after Wales open their Six Nations campaign, comparisons with a young George North are inevitable.
Thompson said: “George was more physically developed when he made his Test debut as an 18-year-old, but Louis has more pace and I’ve not seen anyone as quick as him under my tutelage. Jonny May might have been similar but that was before my time here.”
Rees-Zammit’s success is another feather in the cap for Hartpury, who have no fewer than 54 former players involved at Premiership clubs, 26 at Championship sides and a further 42 who have been dual-registered with them involved in pro rugby within Europe.
Its list of alumni include May, Ellis Genge, Ross Moriarty, Jake Polledri, Seb Negri, Dan Robson and Jonny Hill, with Thompson adding: “A lot of people see the superstars but there’s a broad range of former Hartpury players in the Championship, PRO14 and National Leagues, so we service a lot of teams.
“There is a misconception that Hartpury go out scouting young players and just pinch them from elsewhere, especially Wales, but the reality is a lot of players apply to us.
“People simply recognise that Hartpury is a great educational establishment alongside rugby and that’s a really big draw. Louis Rees-Zammit came to an open day, put his name down for a trial and that was that. Prior to that, we had no knowledge of him.
“We offer something a bit different and his parents thought it was the best place for him to develop.”
He left Hartpury with a good diploma in sport and has really kicked-on with his rugby, just as guys like Ellis Genge and Mat Protheroe (Bristol) did before him.”