The uncapped Exeter flyer Feyi-Waboso was at the centre of a tug-of-war over his allegiances ahead of the Six Nations, but eventually chose England and made his debut as a replacement in the closing stages of the 27-24 victory over Italy.
Feyi-Waboso’s decision did not go down well in certain quarters in Wales. Writing for Telegraph Sport, Warren Gatland recalled the reaction of his kicking coach Neil Jenkins. “He was born in Cardiff and if he doesn’t want to play for Wales, then he can b----- off’.”
Borthwick, however, is confident the 21-year-old will be able to cope with the added scrutiny and says the team will do all they can to protect him. “We are really cognisant of that and rightly so and given the World Cup experience there is a heightened awareness now of those external noises and external factors,” Borthwick said. “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 the remaining time he is studying for his medicine degree. He is pretty busy. My experience right now is that he has his head focused on where it needs to be.”
Gatland also questioned the wisdom of Feyi-Waboso’s commitment and how quickly young England players can drop off the international radar. Yet despite only getting three minutes of action against Italy, fly-half George Ford is conscious that England have a true attacking weapon on their hands.
“He’s a pretty quiet lad, but it looks like not many things affect him to be honest with you,” Ford said. “He gets on with it and gets on with his work as good as anyone I’ve seen. He’s an exciting player, isn’t he? So physical, fast, he’s a game-breaker, so hopefully we can get the ball in his hands a bit more.”
Borthwick is hoping that second row George Martin and prop Ellis Genge, who dropped out of the matchday squad with a foot injury before kick-off, will be available against Wales, however he is resigned to not having centre Ollie Lawrence back as he recovers from a hip injury. Fly-half Marcus Smith also seems set for a lengthy lay-off, although Borthwick is not tempted to call up another fly-half.
“Right now, we have two excellent fly-halves in George and Fin, and George Furbank has also been training at fly-half as well as full-back – and he’s played very well for Northampton there – so he offers us a different dimension and positional flexibility,” Borthwick said. “So right now, I don’t anticipate that we will add another fly-half to our squad.”
While England were outscored three tries to two and failed to score more than 30 points against Italy for the first time in 11 years, they did show more attacking intent than at the World Cup. Ford, who kicked 17 points, says that while the execution can be improved, their new adventurous mindset is here to stay for the rest of the Championship.
“At the very front of our minds, what comes first, is the intent to play, the intent to get behind the ball and attack the defence, and go and try and break the line and score tries,” Ford said. “Since coming in maybe two weeks ago, that’s been the biggest mindset shift, I’d say, from us as a team and, again, first game, trying to implement that, we could have made better decisions a couple of times but playing in it was pretty exciting.
“I want to keep the intent to play, break the line and score tries, and probably pick our execution up when we’ve got the ball. When we go to edges, can we make better decisions? Ultimately we want to build on what we’ve done today.
“You always want to start this tournament with a win. It does give you a bit of momentum, confidence. You look at the game diligently and then build on it and look to get better, but you want to win that first game because you go back home to Twickenham against Wales, which is such an exciting game anyway, with a good win against you, so you can go again.”