By David Williams
Jonny May might be among the fastest wingers in the world, but he will have to get his skates on to keep up with Gloucester rookie Louis Rees-Zammit when he returns to Kingsholm later this year.
Rees-Zammit has been picking up tips on wing play from the likes of George North, Josh Adams and Liam Williams since being called into the Wales Six Nations squad this season and the talented teenager can’t wait to pick the brains of England’s finest.
More than that, he’d love to challenge England’s fifth highest try scorer to a race in training when they become team mates in the next few months. Just to see how he measures up against arguably the fastest player in England!
“Jonny’s a bit of a legend at Kingsholm. When he gets to the club we will have to have a race to see who’s quickest – and perhaps we could stream it live,” said Rees-Zammit, nicknamed “Speedy” by head coach Johan Ackermann.
“When Jonny comes back it will provide more competition for all of us and that can only be a good thing. I don’t worry about pressure, it’s all about working hard to get into the team.
“We’ll have Jonny, Ollie Thorley and myself competing and training hard every day and that will only push me further.”
While May has worked on his speed throughout his career, spending 10 days at the Michael Johnson Performance centre in Texas in the summer of 2018, Rees-Zammit admits this is the first season he has ever done any specific spring training.
He can’t stop scoring!
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 19, 2020
It has certainly paid rich dividends. Before lockdown he had plundered 12 tries in 15 games in all competitions and led the Premiership try charts with seven.
His phenomenal December – “it was the best month of my life“- earned him the Premiership Player of the Month Award while still only 18.
But age is only a number when the stats show that in that month he scored more tries (6), made the most breaks (14) and recorded the highest average gain (10.6 metres, min 25 carries) of any player in Europe in all competitions.
May has been clocked at a mightily impressive maximum speed of 37.71 km/h, yet Rees-Zammit has never even been on a track. So where does his electric pace come from?
“It’s all about genetics I guess. My dad is really fast and I get my pace from him,” he said. “I’d never done any sprint training before this year and I’ve never done athletics.
“I’ve got a lot faster through doing some sprint training and Dan Tobin, the head of S&C at Gloucester, has been putting together loads of programmes for me, I’ve been doing sprint training after every session and I’m definitely getting faster.”
He obviously likes living life in the fast lane because a year ago he was scoring tries for the Wales and Gloucester U18 teams. Now he is within touching distance of winning his first senior cap and has just signed a long-term professional contract with Gloucester.
He has taken everything very easily in his stride thus far, but is there a danger the enforced break from rugby brought about by COVID-19 slow down his magical momentum and progress? He doesn’t think so.
Louis Rees-Zammit is among five uncapped players in Wales’ 38-man Six Nations squad 🏴
The 18-year-old has starred for Gloucester this season ✨pic.twitter.com/0otRMyaG68
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 15, 2020
“This season has been a good experience for me. I’ve got used to the Premiership both physically and mentally and every time I get the ball I know I need to make an impact,” he said.
“I take it game by game, training session by session. When I’m picked I just give it my all for the team.
“I know I have a lot of work-ons, but they will definitely get better if I keep working on them. Every training session I do extras.
“It was disappointing not to get a cap during the Six Nations, but hopefully my time will come. When my chance does come I’ve got to take the opportunity and I’ll be ready for it.
“I thought I would have been ready earlier in the season, so I’m now more than ready to put that shirt on and perform.
“The Welsh coaching team were very encouraging and told me I’ve got the talent and to be ready to make the most of my chance when it comes. I’m just going to wait for my time and do what I did at Gloucester.
“I never take anything for granted. I’ve just got to keep training hard to try to get into the team and then perform on the weekend – that’s all it’s about.”
Last season he became the youngster Gloucester player in the Premiership (18 yrs, 70 days) and this winter he became their youngest to both start (18 yrs, 295 days) and score (18 yrs, 309 days) in a Heineken Champions Cup game.
His European debut came as a replacement at home to Toulouse, but he then started in the return game and found himself up against Springbok World Cup sensation Cheslin Kolbe. Against Montpellier he had to deal with another giant wing problem in Nemani Nodolo.
“I didn’t really find any difference between the Premiership and European. The intensity was pretty similar and it wasn’t too different, even though I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“Kolbe is the best wing in the world and it was a good experience playing against him, although it was a bit annoying it got cut short because of the injury I picked up. I just wanted to show anything I could to everyone in front of the best wing in the world.”
He should have been looking forward to a trip to Japan and New Zealand this summer with Wales, but instead he is pounding the beat around Pontcanna Fields in Cardiff trying to maintain fitness and sharpness.
“This is the longest I’ve been without rugby in my whole life. I’m can’t wait to getting back to play whether it is behind closed doors or in front of a crowd,” he added.
“I’ve been spending hours on the X-Box playing FIFA and watching a few documentaries when I’m not training.
“I watched Michael Jordan’s ‘Last Dance’ film the other day. It’s really good and shows how he went from college to become the best player in the NBA in the space of a year.
“It’s a great watch and a real inspiration because that’s something I wanted to do.”
So far, so good. And if he can leave Jonny May in his slipstream then he really will be motoring.