‘Fairytale’ continues for Immanuel Feyi-Waboso as England wing provides point of difference

The 21-year-old impressed on his first international start against Ireland at Twickenham

Harry Latham-Coyle
Monday 11 March 2024 16:00 GMT
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Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s ability with ball in hand adds real threat on the England wing
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s ability with ball in hand adds real threat on the England wing (Getty Images)

For Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, the fairytale continues. Moments after the full-time whistle at Twickenham on Saturday, with Ireland beaten and the crowd in raptures, the 21-year-old Exeter wing was pulled tightly into a celebratory hug by Ellis Genge. The emotion came quickly as Feyi-Waboso melted into the prop’s shoulder, tears rolling down the face of a young man making his way, his mark and a statement in England white.

This time last year, Feyi-Waboso was helping the Taunton Titans to victory over Darlington Mowden Park in a crucial victory that helped stave off relegation to the English fourth tier. It had been a year of tumult after the demise of Wasps, a young man happy just to be playing again with his medical studies on pause.

12 months on, Feyi-Waboso looks a potential star in the making, a breakthrough season with Exeter now converted into moments of real promise on. Saturday’s encounter with Ireland was the first time that the youngster had graced the Twickenham turf; judging by the crackle of excitement every time he touched the ball, the home faithful were already well aware of his talents.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso celebrates with match-winner Marcus Smith
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso celebrates with match-winner Marcus Smith (Getty Images)

“It’s a fairytale for a lot of us,” Feyi-Waboso beamed shortly after victory was secured. “[There’s] nothing like it. It’s ecstasy. When the drop goal went over, it was crazy. It didn’t feel real.

“The whole experience was crazy, the ups and downs, hearing ‘Swing Low’ in the stadium. I didn’t think you’d hear it because you’re in the zone but during breaks in play, it’s crazy when you hear that. I think I had goosebumps on the pitch when I heard that.”

Feyi-Waboso freely admits that a first experience in England camp has been quite the culture shock. It is not just the packed arenas, higher intensity and scrutiny – he has come off social media – but the chartered flights, world-class catering and plush hotels have taken some getting used to.

But on the pitch, there have been few teething problems. Steve Borthwick has urged England’s players to be brave and bring their point of difference, which for Feyi-Waboso is his ability to slip tackles and make sharp defensive reads on the edge.

“The club side in England that has the closest defensive system to us is Exeter,” Borthwick explained. “That link between Henry Slade and Manny is very significant. Defensively, Manny understands the system really well.”

Borthwick had instructed the youngster to study Irish counterpart James Lowe in the build-up to the game, and there are stylistic similarities with New Zealand’s Mark Telea, too, in the way in which Feyi-Waboso writhes and wriggles through contact and gets on the ball in tighter confines. Only Ben Earl and Bundee Aki made more post-tackle metres that Feyi-Waboso at Twickenham, and also impressed with his backfield positioning as Ireland attempted to test a new-look England back three in the air.

Feyi-Waboso responded strongly to Ireland’s attempts to test him in the air
Feyi-Waboso responded strongly to Ireland’s attempts to test him in the air (Getty Images)

“When a great coach like that says they want the ball in your hands, that gives you confidence,” said Feyi-Waboso of Borthwick’s comments. “It makes you want to get the ball in your hands and want to get in good positions. I feel like the half-backs also listen to those messages and want to put the ball in your hands. It allows you to express yourself.

“We know our attack is good, we know our defence is a very tough defence to beat. When we get it right it breaks teams, our attack and defence.”

Feyi-Waboso was forced to miss England’s second fallow week to take a practical medical exam at Exeter University, but now hopes to build on his showing with another start likely in Lyon next week.

“I feel like this whole process has been growing. We’ve always known we can do something special. From Girona, the first week we were in camp. You could feel something special was brewing.

“I feel like everyone counted us out, but that’s when we thrived. The results speak for themselves. We see us progressing well and this was a reflection of all the hard work we’ve done over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully we can carry it on into France.”

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