LONDON (Reuters) - Wales winger Louis Rees-Zammit became the youngest player selected in the British and Irish Lions squad in more than half a century when he was included on Thursday in Warren Gatland's touring party for South Africa.
At 20 years and 93 days, he is the youngest player on the day of selection in a touring party since David Hewitt in 1959.
The Irish centre went on to play in the first three of the five tests on tour in Australia and New Zealand some 62 years ago.
Rees-Zammit’s heroics in helping Wales win this year’s Six Nations should stand him in good stead for a runout in the opening test against South Africa, 18 months after signing his first professional contract in a rapid rise to prominence.
He has been on a fast track since announcing his arrival in Premiership rugby for Gloucester last season, scoring a hat-trick of tries against Northampton to become the youngest ever player to do so.
Wales called him up during last year’s Six Nations Championship but he only won his first cap after the initial COVID-19 lockdown period, against France last October, as coach Wayne Pivac gently introduced him to the rigours of international rugby.
“When I first came into camp for the last Six Nations it was a shock, even in training,” Rees-Zammit admitted.
“Obviously I didn’t play, but in training I was blowing after five minutes! It’s a lot different, the physicality and the speed of the game.”
But in this year’s Six Nations the Penarth-born flyer looked to the manor born. He was named man of the match after a two-try performance against Scotland at Murrayfield where Wales secured a narrow 25-24 win that proved pivotal in their title triumph.
Wales rugby great Jonathan Davies said after the match “a star is born”.
One downside for Rees-Zammit in South Africa will be the onerous task that has befallen the youngest player on most previous Lions tours -- carrying the fluffy toy mascot ‘Billy the Lion’ at all times.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Toby Davis)