Scotland Sevens star Femi Sofolarin explains why he switched from England

Winger’s ultimate target is a 15-a-side Test cap in dark blue

Scotland's Femi Sofolarin runs past England's Dan Norton to score a try during the World Rugby Sevens Series in Cape Town in December. Picture: Rodger Bosch/Getty

Scottish rugby has always been a broad church that welcomes any contributors to the cause.

From original kilted Kiwi and Grand Slam hero Sean Lineen through to the likes of residency-rule adopted Afrikaners, where would we be without them?

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It has perhaps been a bit uncomfortable at times to international sport purists, and World Rugby has responded by extending the residency rule from three to five years, but Scotland fans have always welcomed those who make the pledge.

And will surely welcome Femi Sofolarin, who is now firmly “captured” to the dark blue and thistle and couldn’t be prouder to be representing the land of his maternal grandfather.

The speedy 20-year-old winger, who is now part of the core Scotland Sevens squad, is certainly one to watch and cherish in the coming years. And he comes with a back story to rival – if not top –many of our other adopted players down the years.

Following in the boot steps of recently Test-retired and Nashville-born Tommy Seymour, Sofolarin’s life also started stateside, in Boston.

“My dad Ade was from Nigeria and a chemical engineer. He joined a company which a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded to design engineering software. My mum Ailie was from Cambridge but her dad was Scottish,” Sofolarin told me from lockdown in his manor of Dulwich this week.

Femi Sofolarin previously represented England at sevens.

Whether it be books, films or boxsets, we’ve probably all been taking comfort from some good tales over the past weeks but the Sofolarin one is a cracker.

After those early years in the USA, where his older sister Yemisi, 22, was also born, there was a return to the UK. He attended Dulwich College, where his rugby career started and joined Beckenham RFC.

His raw speed and try-finishing talent caught the attention of Harlequins, who snapped him up, and he represented England Sevens as well as Great Britain in Youth Olympics qualifying.

He also played for Scotland Under-18s in a Six Nations junior festival in Wales and a decision to go to the University of Newcastle to study geography and business brought him back close to the Scottish orbit. “Rob Brierley [SRU performance manager] got in touch and I met up with [Scotland Sevens coach] Ciaran [Beattie] in the Borders for a chat and was convinced that Scotland was the best option for me,” said Sofolarin. He was contracted to the core Sevens squad and began the juggle with studies and training at that iconic pillar of Scottish industry, Ravenscraig.

“I travel up by train to Glasgow and stay with [centre] Robbie Fergusson and travel through with him for training,” he said. “It’s a hectic schedule sometimes but the uni are understanding and we work it out.”

Scotland invented the abbreviated seven-a-side game and now have a brilliant exponent of it on their side.

Sofolarin was still not Scottish-qualified, though, until he pulled on the dark blue after his 20th birthday, which he did in Hamilton, New Zealand, at the end of January. He’s officially one of our own now.

Before that there was a Hollywood-scripted last-gasp try for a famous win over his former England pals at the Cape Town event on the world sevens series. It is a globe-trotting life but, as for all of us, shutdown for the time being with Scotland sitting 11th in the table. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the world but we don’t get much chance to see the places much. We have a job to do and are focused on the rugby. We were looking forward to Singapore and Hong Kong, then Paris and London but it’s looking like this year is done,” said Sofolarin, who injured his hamstring during that Hamilton event which qualified him for Scotland. “I’m back in Dulwich at my mum’s now, staying home and safe like everyone else and have a training programme to work on.” Not Joe Wicks? “No, not Joe Wicks,” he laughed. “The strength and conditioning guys at Scotland have been great in tailoring the stuff for us we should be doing.”

For now sevens is the youngster’s focus but he is hoping for a future in the 15-a-side game. “At the moment I’m just looking to get fit again and wing is a competitive position, even to get a place in Scotland Sevens,” he said. “But yes, playing 15s is the ultimate target and to play a Test for Scotland would be the pinnacle.”

A chance to represent Great Britain at an Olympics is now also a goal. “The fact they [Tokyo Games] have been off until next year might work for me as I can get rid of this hamstring injury and maybe aim for that now,” he said.

For now, rugby is on hold but Scottish fans should take heart that this talented young man is now fully signed, sealed and delivered on to the team. Certainly one to watch.

Meanwhile, World Rugby is now unified in its commitment to safeguarding the health of the rugby community and the public, combatting the spread of Covid-19.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “These are very difficult and entirely unprecedented times for society and sport. Our primary and immediate responsibility is to ensure the health and wellbeing of the global rugby community and to collectively support those in need.

“Solidarity is one of the foundations of rugby’s character-building values, and there has never been a time when our sense of solidarity, respect and friendship has been more important.

“At this crucial moment it was reassuring to see all parties unified through shared purpose in this initial exploratory discussion.

“The latest projections are that the impact of Covid-19 on public and sporting activities could extend for many more weeks, maybe months, and this productive meeting was an important and unified step towards tackling a global problem together in the best interests of all stakeholders.

“We are intensively examining scenario planning for the scheduled July internationals, should such a plan be required... layers, will we be able to deliver a solution that will reduce the impact of this extraordinary challenge on our sport.

“In the meantime, I encourage everyone to stay safe and heed public health advice.”

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