After making his England debut in the closing moments against Italy, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso could once again be in the spotlight in the second round of the 2024 Six Nations. The Cardiff-born wing has been getting support in camp to block out any external noise, as England get ready to play Wales this Saturday at Twickenham Stadium.
The Exeter Chiefs wing will be putting his sole focus on his on-field performances, in search of an extended run in Steve Borthwick’s side this weekend. Feyi-Waboso made his debut in the final three minutes in Rome, yet maximised his minutes in his brief run-out on the wing. Former England wing Chris Ashton believes that Feyi-Waboso could certainly make the match day 23, to take on Warren Gatland’s side at the home of English rugby. However, when speaking to Gambling Zone, Ashton explained how Feyi-Waboso has long been focussed on a push for the England team, ahead of any potential Wales contention.
“I think that Feyi-Waboso will start on the bench again. I know that there is the Welsh connection, which has been generating a lot of conversation, but it’s very common for players to change their national allegiances in rugby or for players born in one country to play for another. The media speculation around his move was fascinating; it was a little bit like the NFL with everyone waiting to see who he would choose.
“From the conversations that I’ve heard, he was always going to choose England. He studies in England. He plays in England. He’s been in England for a long time and was always going to choose that route. I don’t think that it’s fair to put even more pressure on him and call this game a derby for him, because he only made his debut at the weekend and needs a bit more time to bed into the team.
“He’s been outstanding for Exeter this season. You can see the frame on him; he’s so powerful. He gives England something that we’ve lacked recently with our wingers by just being big, strong and fast. I thought he looked good when he came off the bench against Italy. He didn’t hold anything back and got in the mix straight away, which is a great sign. He wasn’t sitting waiting to receive the ball. There were a couple of situations, scrums and stuff, that didn’t go England’s way and he could have played more of a role in, but hopefully we will get to see that from him this weekend.”
Ashton then turned his attention to a player that he has previously praised, as Tommy Freeman got the top marks after an excellent return to the England squad. The Northampton Saints man impressed on his return to test match rugby, as he created Elliot Daly’s try and provided stand out attacking moments throughout the clash with the Azzurri. Ashton was again full of praise for Freeman, and also backed the debutant Player of the Match from England’s win over Italy.
“I was really impressed by Tommy Freeman. He didn’t let his lack of touches of the ball in the early part of the game get to him. He didn’t get frustrated. I thought he did everything that was asked of him really well. He was the player that opened up Italy. He was the player that looked a constant threat towards the Italian defence.
“He looked really strong, fast and England’s main threat. Tommy is definitely one of the players that caught my eye on the weekend. Ethan Roots did a proper back row job against Italy. Tackling, rucking, doing his carries that aren’t flash, just the hard stuff. He put in a textbook performance for a number six.”
Looking at this weekend’s opponents, Ashton expects there to be some mind games in play before England play Wales. The age-old rivals are set to etch the latest chapter in the history books, just a week after Wales nearly stunned Scotland with a second half comeback. Wales reduced a 27-0 deficit to just one-point against Scotland, and fell just short to secure an unforgettable win in Cardiff. Ashton can see Wales bringing this motivation into Twickenham, but whether they can secure the win against England is a different story all together.
“It’s always fascinating when England play Wales.” Ashton said. “There is always a lot of build-up to these games. I have no doubt that Warren Gatland will try and wind Steve (Borthwick) up at some point to get a reaction out of him. They are always big games because of the rivalries between the two countries, Wales will be coming to England and will approach the game with wanting to keep doing what they did in the second half against Scotland.
“There isn’t any pressure on them (Wales) really. They would have taken a lot of confidence from their second half performance against Scotland, and they know that they can play. Whether or not they can do that at Twickenham is a different thing all together. England will be under pressure to perform at home.
“I think if England can start the game quickly then they will settle. They should get straight into Wales. Italy were more forgiving in the second half than Wales will be, and every Welsh player wants to beat England, so there should be quite a bit of spice in the game on Saturday.”
Ashton then gave his verdict on what epitomised the expression “a game of two halves”, as Wales and Scotland put on one of the most memorable Six Nations meetings in recent times. Ashton accredited part of Wales’ fight back to their impassioned home supporters, who were sent into a frenzy every time the scoreboard ticked over for Gatland’s side.
“I think that Scotland thought they had the match won, and you can understand why with such a commanding score at half time. Normally what happens in those circumstances is that you would expect Wales to come back into it and score a few points early in the second half, but you kill the game off in the last thirty minutes with a bonus point.
“That is the kind of atmosphere that Wales can conjure up at the Principality Stadium. The Welsh fans get right behind their team at the smallest hint of a comeback. I thought Wales were awful in the first half. Warren Gatland has said that was his worst first half in rugby as a coach – they just looked so shocked and were waiting for Scotland to do everything. Their kick-chase was all over the place, and they allowed players like Finn Russell and van der Merwe to run through at will.
The kick-chase is an easy fix for Wales. It looks like the players just need a little bit more clarity on where they need to be, which is something that can be sorted. In the second half, I think Scotland sat back and were desperate not to lose the game instead of trying to win it. That can shut you down as a player and Wales just kept coming and coming.
Ashton expressed how he was so enthralled in the match, he believed that Wales were going to achieve the impossible and secure the win. However, Wales fell just short, with a grounding atmosphere set to descend onto the Scotland camp this week.
“They put Scotland under so much pressure in that second half. It was a fascinating game. I thought that Wales were going to win it in the end, but Scotland just about managed to turn it on again in the last five minutes and see the game out. For Scotland to get their first win in Wales for twenty-two-years is an amazing achievement, but it comes with a bit of a blemish because of the way Wales came back into the game and the manner of that comeback could feel like a defeat for the Scotland players.
“It will be a really weird feeling in the Scotland camp, but I think what happened can benefit Scotland at the tournament. Rather than going into the France game over-confident after battering Wales, they will now have a bit of an edge to their game and more of a focus on making sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Ashton then pivoted to talk about the incredible Irish performance, as they racked up a 38-17 win against France. A feat so rarely accomplished against Les Bleus, Ireland stood tall with a commanding victory, as Jack Crowley spearheaded the triumph over Fabien Galthie’s side. Ashton was certainly impressed by Ireland, yet understands how Andy Farrell’s side won’t get carried away so early in the competition, despite the excitement of their supports.
“It’s funny, somebody said to me on Friday night ‘how was it watching the champions?’ I think some of the Irish (fans) are going a little bit early. I don’t think Ireland will be getting carried away. They had a great game against France which surprised a lot of people because of how good they were. A lot of people thought the impact of some players moving on from the squad would have had a much bigger effect on the team but the result against France just shows how good the Irish system is.
“Ireland have a great fixture against Italy at home next that you would expect them to win. This match gives them an opportunity to get some fine tuning done against an improving Italy side. If they win that one and start building momentum, who knows what they are capable of doing at the tournament.”
No side in the modern version of the Six Nations (since 2000), has been able to win back-to-back tournament Grand Slams. France were the last side to achieve the feat, as their undefeated streak stretched across the 1997 and 1998 Five Nations Championships. History is there to be made for Ireland, and Ashton understands why Farrell’s side is ‘nailed on’ to win the competition by so many fans and pundits alike.
“Can anyone stop Ireland? That’s the great thing about the Six Nations. There is always a team that has got a game in them, but it will take a hell of an effort to do it (beat Ireland). England will be playing them at home in round four, so let’s hope that we have a bit more continuity by the time that game comes around. You’re then looking at one of Scotland and Wales to beat Ireland.
“Scotland have got a big game this weekend with France at home, so I think we will get a proper understanding of where they’re at at this tournament. Perhaps they took their foot off the gas in the victory against Wales and thought they had won the game at half-time. If they can beat France at home, then you never know what kind of a confidence boost that could give them.
“I think everyone has Ireland nailed on (to win the Six Nations). They are ahead at the moment but there are still a lot of good teams in the tournament who are capable of beating each other on the day.”
Ashton was shocked to see France play so poorly in their defeat to Ireland, who are without their maestro scrum-half and captain Antoine Dupont. However, as underwhelming as France were, Ashton could not take anything away from Ireland’s standard setting performance.
“I thought the way Ireland managed the game from start to finish was exceptional. I was flabbergasted that the French team didn’t deliver a performance that matched the atmosphere the fans created in Marseille. In the first half, France were particularly poor.
“Ireland were very efficient; they were calm and controlled throughout the match. Ireland have this ability to build the score up which created a lot of pressure for France.
“I was very impressed with Jack Crowley’s performance. Everything Jack did on the night was calmness personified. He looked extremely comfortable. I know that he’s got great players around him, but he looked so comfortable on Friday night.
“I thought France were really disappointing. There is clearly a hangover and some of the players look like they’re still struggling with the after effects of their World Cup disappointment. France were so far off it. They were struggling throughout. Watching the match in the stadium and seeing the players body language, you could tell that there were problems with this French team, which is something we’re not used to seeing.”