The 21-year-old Exeter Chiefs winger opted for England over Wales, but why?
Listening to Immanuel Feyi-Waboso speak, it’s impossible to ignore the Welsh tone to his accent, yet he is set to line up against the country of his birth in the Six Nations this weekend.
The winger has made quite an impact in the Gallagher Premiership this season at Exeter Chiefs, which drew fresh questions about where he would ply his trade internationally.
After scoring one and playing a starring role in two other tries as Exeter beat Bristol Bears 24-14 at the end of last year, the 21-year-old remained tight-lipped about whether he’d had any contact from Warren Gatland or Steve Borthwick, the head coaches of Wales and England respectively.
However, when the Six Nations squads were unveiled, Feyi-Waboso was listed as an England player and he made his debut off the bench in Rome as England came from behind to beat Italy 27-24. But why did he choose England and why was he able to?
How does Feyi-Waboso qualify for England?
The second part to that question is straightforward. Despite being born in Cardiff and spending most of his life in Wales, Feyi-Waboso also qualifies for England through his grandmother, who was born in Gloucester.
Why he chose England is slightly more nuanced, however.
Feyi-Waboso grew up in Llandaff and joined Cardiff Rugby’s academy in 2020, where he was described as “a future Welsh international” by manager Gruff Rees.
But he was forced to leave after failing to gain acceptance into Cardiff University to study medicine. That took Feyi-Waboso to Aston University in Birmingham where he would join the senior Wasps academy.
Having been signed for the 2022/23 season, he made two appearances before the club fell into administration and eventually ceased to exist.
Luckily, he was handed a career lifeline by Exeter’s director of rugby Rob Baxter, who snapped up the speedy prospect as part of his rebuild plans.
Feyi-Waboso then transferred to Exeter University and, from the outside anyway, could hardly have settled any better in his new environment.
As recently as last September, Feyi-Waboso stated his ambition was still to pull on the red international jersey of Wales one day, so what changed?
It came down to his studies and Wales’ 25-cap rule. Had the 21-year-old opted for Wales over England, he would have been obliged to re-sign for a Welsh region until he had earned at least 25 caps, which would have meant having to transfer to another university again or quitting entirely, something he ultimately opted against doing.
With the loss of Louis Rees-Zammit to the NFL’s international player pathway, it could prove to be a blow for Gatland, although the veteran coach didn’t contact Feyi-Waboso about Six Nations selection.
Borthwick, on the other hand, is delighted to have added Feyi-Waboso to his ranks.
“Manny and I spoke some weeks ago,” Borthwick said. “I have been in regular contact with him, and Rob Baxter at Exeter who has been excellent. Manny has really impressed, not just on the pitch but off it. On it we can all see the power he brings, the speed he brings, how he finds a way through contact when there doesn’t seem to be a way there.
He added: “When I rang him yesterday, I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I have just finished my university studies for the day. I have just wrapped up.’ I told him I am announcing the Six Nations squad tomorrow and you are in it I could sense that excitement and buzz down the phone, he was thrilled. And that gave me a real energy and buzz as well.”
Whatever the reasons behind it, with England and Wales set to do battle this weekend, Feyi-Waboso can expect the boos to ring out from the red section of Twickenham whenever he so much as gets near the ball.
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