Rugbu Union

‘Sky’s the limit’ for Wales’ Tshiunza

Christ Tshiunza, who went to the same school in Cardiff as Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton, has yet to start a Premiership match for Exeter

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter has hailed forward Christ Tshiunza’s potential after he was called up to the Wales squad for the first time.

The 19-year-old lock, who has won youth honours for Wales and also plays for the University of Exeter, has made just four appearances for the Chiefs.

He has impressed to make Wayne Pivac’s squad for Tests against New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and Australia.

“Right here and now the sky’s the limit,” Baxter told BBC Sport.

“A lot of it’s about his potential, it’s not necessarily where you see him right here and now, it’s about the potential that ourselves and Wales see in him.”

Congo-born Tshiunza’s matches for Exeter have all come this season, and all as a replacement.

And Baxter feels that his chances at this stage to actually slip on a red shirt will be limited.

“I don’t think involvement with the squad means he’ll be starting an international in the next week or two,” said Baxter.

“I think it’s more maintaining an involvement with a player who has come through their schools programme and their international programme through the Under-18s and Under-20s.

“It’s a natural progression, you see Eddie Jones do it with certain young players, he brings them into the camp, into the training environment.

“He’s got very good speed, he’s big and he’s strong and quick off the floor lineout-wise and he likes to bump into people.

“Those core fundamentals of what it takes to be a rugby player are there, and now it’s just about how far he can get.”

‘Man Mountain’ who is ‘willing to learn’

Tshiunza moved to Exeter on a four-year academy deal in June 2019 having been on the books of Cardiff.

He attended Whitchurch High School in the Welsh capital – which also boasts amongst its alumni Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas and former Wales captain Sam Warburton – before moving to Exeter after completing his A-Levels.

And despite only being at Sandy Park for a short time, he has already made a big impression on his teammates at the twice English and 2020 European champions.

“Physically he’s just a mountain of man already at such a young age. He’s huge, he towers above me in height but he’s probably a lot wider than me too,” Exeter’s big ball-carrying flanker Dave Ewers told BBC Sport.

“What I do like about Christ is he’s always wanting to learn, and not that he makes mistakes often, but when things don’t go quite his way, he askes the question of what he probably should have done.

“He’s a bright guy and he’s willing to learn, which is always nice to see for young guys coming through.

“Being so young, he can just go from strength to strength and being in that international environment will just take his game to the next level because he’ll see the step up in intensity.”

Dream day

It turned out for a day of contrasts for the teenager. Just an hour after receiving the official call-up, Tshiunza was helping Exeter University defeat their Cardiff counterparts 37-8.

“I hope its real!” said Tshiunza.

“Honestly everything’s been a dream come true so far, playing university, we had a good win and Wales selection. So I am really happy at the moment.

Christ Tshiunza in action for Wales Under-20s against England in the 2021 Six Nations
Christ Tshiunza in action for Wales Under-20s against England in the 2021 Six Nations

“I had a call from Wayne Pivac and everything took me by surprise as it has in the last few weeks.

“Good things just keep happening over and over again, I am grateful for everything.”

Tshiunza is also eligible for England but says playing for Wales has been his ambition, even if rugby was not always his number one sport.

“Wales is home, I will never forget my grassroots rugby and where I come from,” said Tshiunza.

“My mates dragged me into it for some fun. I thought I had to go along with them, and here I am now playing for Wales. I am happy.

“The best thing is they’ll be just as happy as I am, we’ve come through this journey together. I am going to be getting a few phone calls now!”


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