By David Williams
Wayne Pivac believes Wales have a unique talent in Christ Tshiunza – whether or not he is unleashed on opponents this autumn.
Tshiunza was the shock selection in Pivac’s squad for the autumn Tests, although the head coach suggested the 19-year-old may, for the moment, be coming along just for the ride.
The 6ft 6in, 17st 6lbs forward, who was born in the Congolese capital Kinshasa but moved to Cardiff as a child, has only played four times off the bench for Exeter Chiefs, but he did make a few dents for Wales U20s last season.
He was busy playing for Exeter University on Wednesday when Pivac named him in his 38-man squad, but the New Zealander believes he has a size, build and physical prowess that marks him down as something special.
“In the selection, we’re looking at the here and now obviously but also at Rugby World Cup 2023,” said the Wales head coach.
“In Christ, we’ve got a young man who is obviously a great athlete. He’s got a good skill set on him. He obviously lacks gametime in senior rugby.
“He’s in a good place at Exeter in terms of working under Rob Baxter and what’s going on there. So really it’s a discussion I had with Christ post-U20s Six Nations.
Dream come true. We thank God…and Steve Williams 👏🏽🔥 https://t.co/uHnBwhx8Hm
— Christ Tshiunza (@ChristTshiunza) October 13, 2021
“We’d been monitoring him. He’s one that we believe is a 6 going forward, and he can also cover second row. He brings something nobody else in the country probably has in terms of height and athleticism.
“Really, it’s getting him involved now for his development. Whether he plays rugby in this series, time will tell. Certainly we want to get him in, around the senior players and get him in the environment.”
Tshiunza also qualifies to play for England and France and played for England’s Under-20 side in March this year against London Irish Under-23s, a game which did not tie him to represent the country in the future.
Rob Baxter, Tshiunza’s director of rugby at Exeter, suggested that “the skies are the limit” when it comes to the player’s potential.
“I am not surprised,” Baxter said. “It is probably a little bit early in his rugby career and I don’t think even Christ would mind me saying that, but I can understand the reasons why.
“There is a real growing athletic presence there, he is going to be a really big, athletic man and that is coming all the time. He has got very good speed, he is big and strong and quick off the floor lineout-wise and he likes to bump into people.
“Those core fundamentals of a rugby player are there and now it is about how far he can get. Right here and now the skies are the limit, a lot of this is about his potential.”
A great win today against Cardiff topped off by the incredible news that Christ Tshiunza has been named in the @WelshRugbyUnion squad for the upcoming Autumn Internationals.
— EURFC (@ExeterUniRFC) October 13, 2021
Pivac faces the biggest challenge of his career this autumn as Wales take on the best sides in the world, but the Kiwi is excited at the potential of his squad.
Wales kick off their autumn campaign against New Zealand at the Principality Stadium on October 30, before facing South Africa, Fiji, and Australia respectively on the following weekends.
Pivac has selected a squad with a combined international cap tally of 1,186 caps, with two uncapped players in the squad in the form of Scarlets tight-head prop WillGriff John, and Chiefs second-row Tshiunza.
Pivac has also selected Wasps openside Thomas Young, who returns to the test scene for the first time since facing Italy in the 2019 Six Nations. Young will leave Wasps at the end of the season and join Cardiff Rugby.
“It was something that has definitely been forced upon us,” he said.
“Under the 60-cap rule, we knew we couldn’t select Thomas. We’ve had six openside flankers go down with injury and be ruled out.
“On the weekend just gone, we went to watch Josh Navidi and he went down on the Saturday night. Then we were at the Scarlets game on Sunday and another seven, Dan Davis, went down.
Wayne Pivac To Dodge 60-Cap Rule And Bring Thomas Young Into Wales Squad Along With Rhys Priestland https://t.co/c7pRvHAeZI
— Dai Sport (@Dai_Sport_) October 13, 2021
“It’s been a perfect storm in that position. Thomas has form under his belt, playing in a strong league. He’s played international rugby for Wales before.
“He’s 29 years of age, he’s got the maturity. When you look at the opposition, we felt it was special circumstances for this particular competition. We’ve asked for the ability to select him and I’m very happy to say common sense has prevailed on this occasion.”
Wales face the daunting task of facing the All Blacks in two weeks’ time, but Pivac is excited by the challenge, and believes it will be a good yardstick to measure where his team are at looking ahead to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
“The original thoughts on this November series was that we wanted to tighten down on the players used and really drill down to 40-45 players from here on to the World Cup,” he said.
“But as we’ve seen with the injuries we have had and players who are unavailable we’re going to look at more players than we anticipated so it’s a great opportunity for those players and that’s the way we’re looking at it.
“The trick now is getting everyone fit and healthy at the same time, as long as that happens at the World Cup I’ll be really happy but you can’t forecast what’s going to happen to players playing this contact sport.
“We know we’ve got a wish list of players, but those players need to maintain form close to the World Cup and also be fit and available.”
Wales squad for Autumn Nations Series 2021
Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (35 caps)
Rhodri Jones (Ospreys) (21 caps)
Rhys Carre (Cardiff Rugby) (13 caps)
Ken Owens (Scarlets) (82 caps)
Elliot Dee (Dragons) (40 caps)
Ryan Elias (Scarlets) (19 caps)
Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby) (31 caps)
WillGriff John (Scarlets) (Uncapped)
Tomas Francis (Ospreys) (57 caps)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (148 caps)
Adam Beard (Ospreys) (25 caps)
Will Rowlands (Dragons) (10 caps)
Ben Carter (Dragons) (3 caps)
Seb Davies (Cardiff Rugby) (9 caps)
Christ Tshiunza* (Exeter Chiefs) (Uncapped)
Ross Moriarty (Dragons) (48 caps)
Thomas Young* (Wasps) (3 caps)
Taine Basham (Dragons) (3 caps)
Ellis Jenkins (Cardiff Rugby) (11 caps)
Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) 31 caps)
Taulupe Faletau* (Bath Rugby) (86 caps)
Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby) (25 caps)
Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (62 caps)
Kieran Hardy (Scarlets) (7 caps)
Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys) (27 caps)
Rhys Priestland (Cardiff Rugby) (50 caps)
Dan Biggar* (Northampton Saints) (92 caps)
Callum Sheedy* (Bristol Bears) (12 caps)
Johnny Williams (Scarlets) (3 caps)
Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (91 caps)
Nick Tompkins* (Saracens) (13 caps)
Uilisi Halaholo (Cardiff Rugby) (7 caps)
Ben Thomas (Cardiff Rugby) (1 cap)
Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby) (32 caps)
Owen Lane (Cardiff Rugby) (4 caps)
Louis Rees-Zammit* (Gloucester Rugby) (9 caps)
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) (5 caps)
Liam Williams (Scarlets) (71 caps)
*Unavailable for selection for New Zealand
Wales’ 2021 Autumn Series fixtures
- Wales v New Zealand | Principality Stadium | Saturday 30th October 2021 | KO – 17:15
- Wales v South Africa | Principality Stadium | Saturday 6th November 2021 | KO – 17:30
- Wales v Fiji | Principality Stadium | Sunday 14th November 2021 | KO – 15:15
- Wales v Australia | Principality Stadium | Saturday 20th November 2021 | KO – 17:30