Wales boss Wayne Pivac has hailed Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit as “a great finisher” after handing the 18-year-old a Six Nations call-up.
Rees-Zammit, who has scored nine tries in 10 games this season, is among five uncapped players in Pivac’s 38-man squad.
He is joined by fellow international rookies Nick Tompkins, Johnny McNicholl, WillGriff John and Will Rowlands as Wales build towards a Six Nations opener against Italy on February 1.
What a year it’s been so far for @LouisReesZammit:
Signed a senior deal @gloucesterrugby ✍️
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) January 15, 2020
Whether Rees-Zammit makes the starting line-up or bench – he would join an elite club of 18-year-olds to play for Wales like George North and Tom Prydie – remains to be seen.
But Pivac is a fan of his blistering ability that has torn up the Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup this term.
“I am always a great believer that if you are good enough, you are old enough, and he is showing signs he’s maturing as a rugby player at a very young age,” Pivac said.
“He’s got gas, which at the top level of the game you can’t beat, and he is a great finisher.
“He’s not the finished product, as he knows and we know, but it will be great to get him in the environment and start to work with him.”
England are believed to have shown interest in Rees-Zammit, but Pivac dismissed that as having any bearing on his Wales selection.
“Not at all,” he added. “You only have to look at his social media page. He’s got a big Welsh flag there.
“He’s Welsh through and through. Having spoken to him, he’s over the moon. He loves playing rugby.”
Rees-Zammit is among 10 English-based players in Pivac’s group, along with the likes of Saracens centre Tompkins, Sale Sharks prop John and Wasps lock Rowlands.
There is also a recall for Toulon scrum-half Rhys Webb, who last played Test rugby just over two years ago.
By joining Toulon, he ruled himself out of Wales contention because he did not meet the minimum 60-cap selection criteria for players plying their trade outside the country.
Toulon recently agreed to Webb’s early release from his contract for family reasons, and he will rejoin the Ospreys next term.
He was originally eligible for Wales again from July 1, but the Welsh Rugby Union announced that Wales’ Professional Rugby Board (PRB) had agreed to an application from Webb for a six-month dispensation, during which time Pivac can consider him.
Tompkins, 24, represented England Saxons in 2016 and is an England Under-20 World Cup winner, but he qualifies for Wales through his Wrexham-born grandmother.
Despite Tompkins playing for the Saxons, he was not ‘captured’ by England because their opposition – South Africa A – were not South Africa’s officially recognised international second team at that time.
“I took notice when he carved the Scarlets up in the Champions Cup when he was about 20,” Pivac said, of Tompkins.
🏴 Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has named his first #GuinnessSixNations squad, including five uncapped players.
📋 WillGriff John, Will Rowlands, Nick Tompkins, Johnny McNicholl a Louis Rees-Zammit yw'r chwaraewyr di-gap yn y garfan.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 15, 2020
“I found out he was eligible afterwards. I’ve been watching his career ever since, to be quite honest. He has gone very well.
“He’s a young fella who has come through and is really confident in his game at the moment. He’s at a great club and has come on a long way in a short space of time.
“We think he’s ready for this level of the game. He has always known he’s been able to go either way (select Wales or England).
“He’s been living in England and gone through the age-group. But in terms of committing to a national team, he’s made that commitment and we are very pleased.”
Elsewhere, fit-again Bath number eight Taulupe Faletau – who missed the World Cup due to a collarbone injury – is back, along with recalled Gloucester back Owen Williams, but there are no places for props Nicky Smith and Samson Lee.