Wales’s Louis Rees-Zammit has quit rugby union for America’s NFL ahead of the Six Nations.
The 22-year-old, who has also previously been selected for the British and Irish Lions, said he had taken the decision “after careful consideration”.
In a statement on social media, he said he would be joining the NFL’s International Player Pathway programme, with the aim of earning a place on the NFL roster in the US this year.
The programme gives elite international athletes the opportunity to compete for a potential spot on an NFL roster.
“Opting to step away from international rugby on the eve of the Six Nations has been a painstaking decision, but I am extremely excited to take up a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue a new challenge,” Rees-Zammit said.
He has won more than two dozen caps for Wales and scored more than a dozen international tries. He has also appeared scores of times for Gloucester since his debut in 2018.
Rees-Zammit’s announcement came as Wales announced its 34-player squad for the Six Nations.
The winger thanked his club Gloucester “for allowing [him] to head in a different direction over the next few weeks”.
“Although this decision may come as a surprise, I would like to reiterate that this does not necessarily mean I am retiring from rugby, but rather at this stage of my life, I am excited to explore a unique challenge that has the potential to diversify my skill set,” he added.
“My best wishes go out to Wales for the upcoming Six Nations and year ahead, while I will continue to closely follow the continued progress of Gloucester from afar.
“To all my followers, fans and family, I thank you for your support, and look forward to having your backing throughout this next chapter.”
A spokesperson for NFL UK said “we look forward to supporting him on his journey in the programme”.
In making his decision to quit rugby for American football he follows a handful of others who have crossed the Atlantic, such as Christian Wade and Gavin Hastings, although none have become stars of the game.
Wales will kick-start their Six Nations campaign against Scotland on 3 February in Cardiff.