England will take special care with Immanuel Feyi-Waboso this week knowing the exciting Exeter wing is closing in on a first appearance against the country of his birth.
Feyi-Waboso made his Test debut as a late replacement in the 27-24 Guinness Six Nations victory over Italy, capturing his eligibility for England at the expense of Wales – Saturday’s round two visitors to Twickenham.
Born and raised in Cardiff but qualifying for the Red Rose through a grandmother, a tug of war for his allegiance was brewing only for the 21-year-old sensation to quickly opt for Steve Borthwick’s team.
Wales boss Warren Gatland said in response that the decision made by the Exeter University medical student and former Wales Under-18 international had not gone down well in some quarters across the border.
England are acutely aware of the need to protect their players in the wake of fly-half Owen Farrell and flanker Tom Curry facing intense online criticism during the World Cup and it’s build-up.
Head coach Borthwick said: “We are really cognoscente of that and rightly so given the World Cup experience.
“There is a heightened awareness now of those external noises and external factors. We will give all the players all the support they need.
“Regarding Manny, three things: he trains really hard, he enjoys being with the players and in the remaining time he is studying for his medicine degree. He is pretty busy.
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“My experience right now is that he has his head focused on where it needs to be.”
Veteran fly-half George Ford, who directed Saturday’s victory in Rome, is backing Feyi-Waboso to take the coming week in his stride.
“Manny’s a pretty quiet lad but it looks like not many things affect him. He gets on with it and gets on with his work as good as anyone I’ve seen,” Ford said.
“He’s an exciting player – so physical and fast. He’s a game-breaker, so hopefully we can get the ball in his hands a bit more.”
England are assessing injuries to Marcus Smith, Ellis Genge, Ollie Lawrence and George Martin.
Smith has a calf problem and the results of another scan will dictate whether he is able to participate in the latter stages of the Six Nations.
Genge pulled out on the morning of the Italy clash because of a foot issue and England are optimistic he will be available against Wales, but Lawrence and Martin will not feature because of respective hip and knee complaints.
Feyi-Waboso was one of five England debutants against Italy, another was his Exeter team-mate Ethan Roots, who delivered a man-of-the-match display at blindside flanker.
What it's all about…
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“He didn’t look like he was playing his first game, did he? That’s what struck me from the first day he came into camp,” Borthwick said.
“We did a fitness session in the afternoon on the first training day. It was a special session to put the players through their paces. What struck us was how much he was talking to the other players around him.
“He was loud, he was encouraging others and demanding of others. That’s his personality in camp. That really impressed me and we saw that out there against Italy.
“I knew he was a good player, but as a character he’s grounded and experienced, with a real leader’s voice.”