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Six Nations 2024: Cardiff duo Cameron Winnett and Alex Mann reflect on special Wales debuts

Guinness Six Nations: England v Wales

Venue: Twickenham, London Date: Saturday, 10 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT

Coverage: Watch live on S4C; listen on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Radio Wales & Radio Cymru; text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

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

The pair both come from a football background, impressed for Cardiff this season and received a first senior squad call-up after starring for the nation's under-20s in previous campaigns.

After making their Cardiff debuts together in December 2021, full-back Winnett and flanker Mann also played their first international in each other's company in the Six Nations defeat by Scotland last Saturday.

In both games, Winnett started in the number 15 jersey, while Mann came on as a replacement wearing number 20.

"Alex is a really close friend to me," said Winnett.

"We always go for a coffee and have chats together. He's like a big brother, always there for us.

Mann said: "Cam's a good mate. That's a good trait of his. He is quiet, but when he gets out of his shell, he's good and the rugby speaks for itself."

Emotional day

Winnett, 21, started the match in what was just his 16th professional game and had tears in his eyes when singing the national anthem.

"It was amazing, a dream come true and everything I'd worked for since I was a little kid with a dream," said Winnett.

"It was amazing to be able to sing the national anthem in front of my family.

"During the anthem I was thinking about the sacrifices my parents made by taking me to sessions, and the coaches who had helped me get to that point in my career.

"My family were right in front of me. It was quite tough, I couldn't look at them to be honest, but it was a nice moment."

Mann is a year older at 22 and captained Wales under-20s for two seasons, but had only played 12 professional games before Saturday with 11 of those in the 2023-24 campaign.

He was named as a Wales replacement and was equally as proud.

"That's what we work for all those days, that are dark days or good days," said Mann.

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

"I was soaking it all in. It was probably the best day in the world with friends and family in the stands."

Mann sat on the bench as Scotland built up a 27-point lead. After James Botham had scored Wales' first try, Mann replaced his Cardiff colleague and made an dramatic impact with a try and a brilliant tackle on Huw Jones, almost helping a famous comeback.

"I was just thinking about personal stuff, trying to bring the energy, lift the boys and make an impact when I went on," said Mann.

"It was about being ready if I got an opportunity to go on.

"For the try, the boys did all the hard work and I was the lucky one with the ball over the line.

"It was like a nanosecond of silence and then I felt Domaz (Corey Domachoswki) jump on me so I've got a sore back.

"The stadium was crazy, I couldn't believe it, but knew we still had a job to do to try and win the game."

Choosing rugby

Both players could have followed a different path with football backgrounds, central defender Mann was even picked up as a youngster by Cardiff City.

"I've always played rugby since I was young, but had a nasty break in my elbow and shoulder," he said.

"My friend was playing football so I thought I'd give that a go. I had five years in football and played for Cardiff City.

"I started with Cwmbach, got scouted, and went straight into the academy and the professional set-up helped me a lot from a young age.

"I started playing rugby again in school and I knew straight away that was for me.

"It just came natural, the way I am and way I play. I knew straight away so I had a conversation with my mam and dad and said rugby is for me. I have no regrets."

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

"He was the first person I FaceTimed after because he was in Belgium playing and funnily enough he scored the time I came on, so it was a good, proud day for us both," said Mann.

"He's like a brother to me. He was giving me pointers before the game. When we were younger we made sacrifices when our mates were going out.

"Isaak and I were the ones staying at home talking about these moments. I don't know how many times we have talked about playing for Wales, hopefully he can do the same."

Winnett was a central midfielder, but opted for rugby earlier in his development.

"It had always been rugby and football, I played for my local team Porth growing up," said Winnett.

"I was lucky enough to play for a team called Cambrian Academy. I played for them for two seasons until under-11s.

"My parents would take me to play both sports, I'd go from one football session to a rugby one, and on a Sunday, I'd played a football game followed by a rugby match.

"After those two seasons I thought I couldn't keep on playing two games on the same day so I decided to play rugby. That's what I love to do."

England await

The next step is a potential first away international at Twickenham this weekend with Winnett in line to keep his full-back position.

It is a location he knows well after making his Cardiff try-scoring debut aged 18, a Champions Cup match just up the road at the Twickenham Stoop against Harlequins in December 2021.

Mann finds himself a leading contender for a first international start with Botham being released from the squad with a knee injury.

"If I get the chance it's Wales and England so I don't think you can get better than that," said Mann.

"It's a challenge, but we will face it head on."

That's what both these young players have done to date in their short careers.