By Nathan Parker and Ben Evans
TEENAGE sensation Louis Rees-Zammit fully justifies his place in Wales’ Six Nations squad despite being just two weeks shy of his 19th birthday.
That’s the view of BBC Wales Scrum V pundit and former Newport RFC full-back Phil Steele who, in an interview with exposport.co.uk, backed the Penarth-born Gloucester flier to reward the faith of new coach Wayne Pivac on the international stage.
Rees-Zammit has been pulling up trees in the English Premiership for the Cherry and Whites, his blistering pace and deadly finishing prowess earning rave reviews.
His form prompted Pivac to waste no time in bringing him into the fold – rather than run the risk of him falling into the clutches of Eddie Jones’ England, for whom he would be eligible on residency grounds.
“It’s definitely Wayne Pivac’s stamp on it,” said Steele of the 38-man tournament squad announced last Wednesday.
“I would put Rees-Zammit on the bench against Italy.
“I know it’s the first game up and he’ll want to develop a little continuity, but it is also the easiest game, at home.
“It will therefore be good for him to get a feel of what it’s like to be in an international 23 on a matchday, potentially get his first cap out of the way and take things from there.
“If you’re young enough you’re good enough and with a winger, because wings are the centre forwards of rugby, you know, even in the modern game, if you’re playing well, there’s no better time because wingers thrive on confidence.”
While Rees-Zammit is capturing the imagination of the rugby fraternity with the nature of his play, Steele is more cautious about the part hard-working Wasps second row Will Rowlands – another surprise inclusion – may play in the coming couple of months.
Rowlands has captain Alun Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Adam Beard and Cory Hill to get past if he wants a berth in the engine room.
Steele added: “It depends on how the tournament pans out, if Wales win their first two games, if they beat Ireland away and all of a sudden there’s a grand slam on, maybe Pivac will feel he needs to go for his best side.
“If we lose in Ireland and then, perhaps the Scotland game, the end of the tournament becomes a bit of dead rubber.
“Maybe then you could have a look at him, but I don’t think he’s as likely to get a chance as Rees-Zammit or Tompkins.”