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Sport What happened when Louis Rees-Zammit and the 'world's best rugby player' faced each other

15:06  04 december  2021
15:06  04 december  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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He is that good a player the opposition might be tempted to man-mark him during the pre-match warm-up.

Such is the threat of Semi Radradra.

When WalesOnline listed the best rugby players in the world for 2020, he was at the top, Antoine Dupont or no Antoine Dupont.

“He can go the direct route, bashing his way through in the centre, or he can take the scenic outside route, putting on the afterburners to arc around the opposition before delivering the decisive pass or offload. The best player in the world right at this moment in time,” we wrote.

Trying to shackle him was the challenge for Louis Rees-Zammit and his Gloucester team-mates as they faced Bristol Bears on Friday evening. There have been easier gigs.

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Radradra figured on the bench after a long spell out with an injury.

He roamed the entire midfield area after coming on for the second half, often looking most dangerous when he hit the outside channel where he could use his devastating combination of power and pace.

The Fijian had been on the pitch for only seconds when he came across Rees-Zammit near the far touchline. Chris Harris was on the scene, too, making it a couple of Lions in attendance. Really, there could have been an entire Lions squad and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Radradra went forward between Harris and his Welsh team-mate, pushed his arms through the tackle and offloaded to Henry Purdy.

It was sublime skill that deserved better than for Purdy to lump the ball straight into touch. It was akin to a Michelin-starred chef handing a dish of gold-laced caviar to a waiter and the chap dropping it.

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“Louis Rees-Zammit on the same pitch as Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau — it’s not going to be quiet,” said BT Sport commentator Nick Mullins, possibly rubbing his hands together as he did so.

Fate decreed that Rees-Zammit’s most difficult moment of the game was to follow as Callum Sheedy put up a cross kick that had his Wales team-mate in all kinds of difficulties. The Gloucester wing ran back as the ball went over his head, then watched it bounce into the hands of Purdy, who had the simple job of gathering and touching down.

But it was to the youngster’s credit that he didn’t dwell on it.

Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau of Bristol Bears © Harry Trump/Getty Images Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau of Bristol Bears

On 55 minutes he clung to Radradra like a limpet to a rock, not only stopping the Bristol player but also causing him to spill the ball. There followed maybe the biggest cheer around Kingsholm all night.

Back came Radradra with a pass behind his back, the mild surprise being that he didn't make himself disappear in a puff of smoke at the same time.

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Rees-Zammit was often denied space by Bristol’s defence, but he was willing to venture infield and drilled through a telling kick to within a metre of the opposition line which had the visitors in all kinds of trouble. “The decision making and execution of Rees-Zammit off his left peg...he’s more than just a runner and a finisher,” said Ugo Monye, also watching from the BT Sport commentary box.

The Welsh player also stretched the cover by holding his width as Gloucester crossed for one of their four tries in a 27-10 win.

He is only 20, remember.

Every game is a learning exercise for him and he will have picked up a huge amount from this one.

After all, it isn’t every week a youngster gets to share a pitch with a player of Radradra’s quality.

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