Immanuel Feyi-Waboso: Cardiff Uni rejection set me on the path to England

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso in England training before their Six Nations match against Scotland
England won the tug-of-war for Immanuel Feyi-Waboso's international allegiances - Getty Images/David Rodgers

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, England’s latest wing who was born in Wales, revealed that he has never wondered about the path he might have gone down had he been accepted to Cardiff University to study medicine.

Feyi-Waboso was not given a place at Cardiff despite achieving three A* grades at A-level. Instead he went to university in England before ending up at Exeter, where he is continuing his medical studies while impressing for the Chiefs, leading to a call-up from Steve Borthwick and an England debut against Italy.

When asked whether he wondered how things may have panned out had he studied in Wales, Feyi-Waboso replied: “Not really, no. As soon as I didn’t get in, I didn’t think about it again.”

Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, in his column for Telegraph Sport last month recalled the moment assistant coach Neil Jenkins learned that Feyi-Waboso had chosen to play for England over Wales. “I can’t use the language that he used but it was basically along the lines of: ‘He was born in Cardiff and if he doesn’t want to play for Wales, then he can b----r off’,” Gatland wrote.

Feyi-Waboso could become a third-generation doctor after passing his degree. His Nigerian grandfather, Marcus, is a gynaecologist while his English grandmother, Margaret, lives in Gloucester. Feyi-Waboso’s father, Andrew, is an ophthalmologist and the family moved around a lot as a result of his father’s job, leading to Feyi-Waboso being born in Cardiff.

“When I came to Exeter my dad was like ‘Yeah, I’ve lived here too’,” Feyi-Waboso explained. “He’s been around a lot to be fair, spent some time in Scotland. We settled in Cardiff for a decent amount of time. I was there until I was 15 and I went to school in Bristol.”

Extra attention was on Feyi-Waboso last week given his ties with Wales and the 21-year-old admitted that since coming into the international fold he has been deleting Instagram throughout the week, heeding the advice of others in the squad on blocking out external noise. That attention was obviously heightened when Feyi-Waboso’s decision to play for England instead of Wales became public after he was called up by Borthwick, which the 21-year-old admits came sooner than expected.

Manny Feyi-Waboso during a squad photoshoot for Exeter Chiefs
Feyi-Waboso's form for Exexter Chiefs led to a call-up for Steve Borthwick - Getty Images/David Rogers

“I thought [the decision] would be a lot further in the future,” he said. “There has been a bit of noise, to be fair. You guys have probably been writing it. I blocked out a lot of it so it wasn’t too bad. I have a lot of good people around me, like family. They helped my decision and definitely didn’t force my hand. It was definitely my decision. Whatever decision I made, they were happy.”

Regarding his move to Exeter, he revealed that Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby, helped to secure his place studying medicine at the university with Feyi-Waboso opting to repeat his first year.

“Rob was really good about it, he kind of told them that was huge..[Medicine] is not something I want to stop. He was all for it, and he made it happen, pretty much. Got me in. I kind of said, I want to start from year one again, because I’ll be playing a lot, getting used to full time rugby and full time medicine. I’d rather just start again from scratch, and go again.”

Juggling the workloads of being a professional rugby player and a medical student is some task, with Feyi-Waboso studying in the mornings and late afternoons at university either side of training. With an exam coming up a few days after England face France, he is planning to do some exam preparation while in camp with the England team doctor, Katy Hornby.

“I just kind of enjoyed learning,” said Feyi-Waboso. “If I wasn’t playing rugby, my ideal situation would be just to stay in Uni, keep learning, keep going. But obviously, I feel like being a doctor is a career of constant learning.

“You don’t really stop. You do five years in Uni, then you have two foundation years, then specialise... it’s not boring. Neither is rugby. It’s very interesting. It’s constantly learning, seeing new players, new systems and stuff like that. So it’s pretty cool.

“My driving force, I feel like it’s something that’s now habitual. It’s just something that I really want to do: become a doctor.”

Back on the rugby field, it has been less than a year since Feyi-Waboso was turning out in National One for Taunton, facing the likes of Chinnor and Moseley and helping the club to avoid relegation. Now he is an international wing.

“It’s been a step up, definitely. Being around the new boys all of the players have been really welcoming – it’s quite shocking as I thought there would be more of a hierarchy, but they’re all so friendly. It’s been really good. I’ve enjoyed the journey, definitely. It feels a bit fast tracked, but I’ve enjoyed being here.”

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