Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit is hoping to continue his meteoric rise by becoming a British and Irish Lions Test starter against South Africa.
The Gloucester wing, 20, is the youngest player in Warren Gatland’s 37-man party after impressing in his first Six Nations with four tries.
Now he is targeting a role in the three internationals against the Springboks.
“This is just the start, I have to try now to push on and get a starting Lions spot,” Rees-Zammit said.
Rees-Zammit has been named in the squad alongside fellow back three players Josh Adams, Liam Williams, Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Duhan van der Merwe and Elliot Daly.
“I want to play Test match rugby for the Lions,” he added. “The only way I can do that is by performing and training well. It is a big few months ahead of me and I have to play well.
“There are some great players named in that squad and there is a lot of competition.”
At 20 years and 93 days old, Rees-Zammit became the youngest player on day of selection in a touring party since Ireland’s David Hewitt in 1959.
“It is a big honour and a lot of responsibility,” said Rees-Zammit.
“I will not be fazed by it. I have been riding the wave so far and I hope to continue to do that.”
As the tour party’s junior man, Rees-Zammit will be responsible for looking after the Lions mascot, taking over from England lock Maro Itoje in 2017. It is a role Alun Wyn Jones briefly adopted in 2009 in South Africa.
Twelve years on and at the age of 35, Jones has been named as captain on his fourth Lions tour.
“He is an absolute legend of the game and I can’t wait to play with him again,” said Rees-Zammit.
“He has always told me if I need any advice then he is there for me. He is like my dad in camp!”
The Lions tour will see Rees-Zammit get a first taste of life under Gatland.
“I can’t wait to work with him for the first time,” he said.
“I have heard good things and I can’t wait to get involved and learn off him and all the other coaches.”
Rees-Zammit has taken most things in his stride since bursting on the scene when he became the youngest Gloucester player to appear in a Premiership fixture against Bath in April 2019, aged 18 years and 70 days.
His try-scoring exploits resulted in him being selected for the 2020 Six Nations squad and made his debut in the friendly against France in August.
Rees-Zammit then starred in the 2021 Six Nations title-winning side, but he was taken aback by his selection.
“It is surreal and I never really thought I would be named,” he admitted.
“It’s been a mad year and I’m so delighted. It is an absolute honour. I’ve only been playing international rugby for seven or eight months and now this has happened.
“There have been a few wind-ups in training but I never really believed it until it was announced.
“We watched it together in the Gloucester team room. I was so nervous. I was sweating so much. Chris Harris was named first and then my name came up and everyone started jumping on me. It was an amazing moment.”
While two Gloucester players were selected, England wing Jonny May was left out.
“I am gutted for Jonny because he has helped me loads but that is rugby and you have ups and downs and you have to try and crack on and prove people wrong,” added Rees-Zammit.
“He messaged me to say congratulations, that was a classy gesture which I was very appreciative of.”
It was one of many messages Rees-Zammit received as he celebrated the news of his call-up in the evening with his family – on his parents’ 26th wedding anniversary.
“My family are my rock and I am so thankful for them and everything they have done for me. I also want to mention the coaches who have helped get me to where I am today,” he said.
“I am very thankful to everybody who has helped me get this far.
“I got a message from the All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith. We have been speaking a few times and he is an absolute legend of the game. I was buzzing with that message.”