Six Nations 2024: Cardiff duo Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann mark exceptional debuts for Wales

Six Nations 2024: Cardiff duo Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann mark exceptional debuts for Wales

  • By Gareth Griffiths
  • BBC Sport Wales

Image source, Huw Evans Agency

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Alex Mann scored one of Wales’ four tries against Scotland and was praised by Cameron Winnett

Guinness Six Nations: England v Wales

Location: Twickenham, London Date: Saturday, 10 February Start: 16:45 GMT

Access: Watch live on S4C; listen to BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Radio Wales & Radio Cymru; commentary on the BBC Sport website and programme.

New Wales players Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann have a lot in common.

The pair both come from football backgrounds, have impressed for Cardiff this season and have been called up to the senior Under-20s in previous competitions.

After making their Cardiff debut together in December 2021, full back Winnett and flanker Mann played their first international matches in the Six Nations against Scotland last Saturday.

In both games, Winnett started wearing the number 15 jersey, with Mann replacing him wearing the number 20.

“Alex is my best friend,” Winnett said.

“We always go out for coffee and hang out together. He’s like a brother, he’s our supporter.

Mann said: “Cam’s a good ally. That’s his quality. He’s quiet, but when he comes out of his shell, he’s good and the rugby speaks for itself.”

A day of thoughts

Winnett, 21, started the game in his 16th game and had tears in his eyes during the national anthem.

“It was amazing, a dream come true and everything I’ve ever done since I was a kid I dreamed of,” Winnett said.

“It was amazing to sing the national anthem in front of my family.

“During the national anthem, I was thinking about the sacrifices my parents made by taking me to school, and the teachers who helped me get there in my career.

“My family was in front of me. It was really hard, I couldn’t look at them honestly, but it was a good time.”

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Six Nations 2024: Winnett ‘couldn’t look at his family’ on Wales anthem

Mann is 22 and has led Wales under 20s for two seasons, but had made just 11 appearances before Saturday with 10 of those coming in the 2023-24 campaign.

He was named as the heir to Wales and he was proud of it.

“That’s what we work on all those days, whether it’s the dark days or the good days,” Mann said.

“It was surreal, but we knew we had a job to do and if I got the chance I would try to do it.

“I was just staring. It was the best day in the world with friends and family in the stands.”

Mann sat on the bench as Scotland took a 27-point lead. After James Botham scored Wales’ first try, Mann came on for his Cardiff counterpart and impressed with a try and a superb tackle on Huw Jones, almost helping the legendary returner.

“I was just thinking about my stuff, trying to bring energy, get guys up and make changes as I go,” Mann said.

“It was about planning if I got the chance to continue.

“The try, the boys worked hard and I was lucky with the ball over the line.

“It was like a nanosecond of silence and I felt Domaz (Corey Domachoswki) jump me so I have a sore back.

“The stadium went crazy, I couldn’t believe it, but I knew we had work to do to try and win the game.”

Both players would have followed a different path to football, with full back Mann being picked up as a child by Cardiff City.

“I’ve always played rugby since I was young, but I had a problem with a broken elbow and shoulder,” he said.

“My friend was playing football so I decided to quit. I had five years in football playing for Cardiff City.

“I started with Cwmbach, I looked, I went to coaching school and the professional setup helped me a lot from a young age.

“I started playing rugby again at school and immediately I knew this was for me.

“It just happened naturally, the way I am and the way I play. I knew it straight away so I talked to my mum and dad and said rugby is mine. I have no regrets.”

Mann’s Cardiff City and Wales Under-21s midfielder Isaak Davies, currently on loan at Belgian First Division club Kortrijk, both grew up in Aberdare and are close friends.

“He was the first person I met after that because he was in Belgium playing and funny enough he found the time I came, so it was a great, proud day for all of us,” Mann said.

“He’s like a brother to me. He gives me pointers before games. When we were young, we used to make sacrifices when our friends were coming out.

“Isaak and I were the ones sitting at home talking about these times. I don’t know how many times we’ve talked about playing for Wales, I hope he can do the same.”

Winnett was a midfielder, but chose rugby earlier in his development.

“It was always about rugby and football, I played for Porth growing up,” said Winnett.

“I was lucky enough to play for a team called Cambrian Academy. I played with them for two seasons up to the under 11s.

“My parents would take me to play both sports, I would go from football to rugby, and on Sundays I would play football followed by rugby.

“After those two seasons I thought I couldn’t play two games in one day so I decided to play rugby. That’s what I love to do.”

Image source, Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency

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Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann have both played important roles for Cardiff this season

England is waiting

Next up is a potential international debut at Twickenham this weekend as Winnett is in line to keep his back.

It is a place he is familiar with after making his Cardiff debut as an 18-year-old, with the Champions Cup just around the corner at the Twickenham Stoop against Harlequins in December 2021.

Mann will find himself leading the charge on his first international debut after Botham was ruled out of the squad with a knee injury.

“If I get a chance with Wales and England then I don’t think you can get any better than that,” Mann said.

“It’s tough, but we’ll get through it.”

This is what all these young players have achieved so far in their short years.

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