Wales are delighted to release 19-year-old Under-20 ‘specimen’ who played for England three months ago
When Christ Tshiunza was named to England’s Under-20 squad in March it was said to have caused a wave of concern in Welsh rugby.
The Cardiff second row giant had previously been lost to the Wales national game, signed by Premiership champions Exeter.
Was he now on the verge of becoming unavailable for Wales on the international front and being picked up by England?
Fortunately, there was no need to worry.
Playing for the English U20s against the London Irish in March was mainly a case of getting much needed playing time following a lack of rugby amid the Covid pandemic.
Above all, it did not tie him to the Red Rose in international terms.
You can see the full Wales U20 squad for the Six Nations here.
While acknowledging that England had their eyes on the 6-foot-7 former Whitchurch High School student, the Welsh Rugby Union were confident they would guarantee his services for the long term.
Former Wales U20 head coach Gareth Williams was in regular contact with the teenager, discussing his options, and arranged for him to come on board for a fortnight’s training in April .
Williams – who evolved to be part of Wayne Pivac’s coaching staff – also worked closely with Exeter in terms of the player’s future development.
Those efforts have now paid off with Tshiunza signing up with Wales for the Under-20 Six Nations, which start this weekend.
Williams’ successor as head coach Ioan Cunningham is delighted to have the 19-year-old at his disposal.
“He’s a great athlete, he’s very dynamic,” said the former Scarlets forward coach.
“It’s a specimen.
“We are delighted to see him grow within our group, building on his strengths and developing his understanding of the game.
“I can’t wait to see him go over the next four weeks.”
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Born in Congo, Tshiunza arrived in Wales at the age of seven after his parents decided to move to the UK due to the political situation and civil war in the central African country.
After first living in Splott, the family later moved from Cardiff to Llandaff.
Young Tshiunza first excelled in athletics, gaining attention with his sprint and high jump, competing in the Welsh County Championships.
But he then discovered rugby with the Rhiwbina RFC, resuming the sport at 14 years old.
He quickly made his mark progressing through Cardiff Schools and the Cardiff Blues U16s.
Track and field was always on the sporting agenda, however. He was the best of his age group in the high jump, setting a personal best 5’11 ” (1.80m) in 2018.
But, in the end, he chose to focus on rugby, with a rapid growth spurt of around four or five inches having seen him emerge as a natural second row.
His size and jumping ability in athletics make him a dominant presence in the roster, while he is also quick and possesses both handling and carrying skills.
Such raw materials aren’t about to go unnoticed, and in 2019 he made headlines when he was hired by top-flight Exeter on a four-year contract, with the opportunity to study sports science at the city university, a key factor in its decision.
This sparked initial concerns he could be lost to Wales, to which he was eligible along with England and France.
But that summer he represented Wales U18 on their tour of South Africa and said his big ambition was to wear all three feathers at the 2023 World Cup.
Now he’s about to take one more step in that direction when he dons the red jersey of the rescheduled Six Nations, which takes place entirely at Cardiff Arms Park.
Wales kick off their campaign against Italy on Saturday, June 19, with matches against Ireland, France, England and Scotland following off quickly.
There will be plenty of looks at the towering Tshiunza – who chooses Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones as their role models – and fans will have the chance to see exactly what he has to offer.