'Sky's the limit' for Tshiunza, says Baxter

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Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter is predicting a big future ahead for young forward Christ Tshiunza, who was today named in the Wales senior squad for the first time. Picture: JMP Sport

By Mark Stevens

Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, believes it could be a case of “the sky’s the limit” for surprise Wales call-up Christ Tshiunza.

The uncapped 19-year-old - who can play in the back-row or second-row forward - was born in DR Congo, but moved to Wales in 2010 and is a product of Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, whose past pupils also include Sam Warburton, Gareth Bale and Geraint Thomas.

Within an hour or so of his Wales squad selection to contest the Autumn Nations Series – appointments with New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and Australia – 6ft 6in Tshiunza was debuting for Exeter University in their latest BUCS Super Rugby fixture against Cardiff University.

“I am not surprised,” said Baxter. “It’s probably a little bit early in his rugby career – I don’t think even Christ would mind me saying that – but I can understand the reasons why.

“There is a real physical presence there, he is going to be a big, athletic man. He has got very good speed, he is big, strong and quick, quick off the ground lineout-wise and he likes to bump into people. So those core fundamentals of what it takes to be a rugby player are there.

“And now, really, it’s just about how far he can get. It is about playing plenty of rugby and training as well as he can. He is probably one of those where right here and now the sky’s the limit a little bit.”

Wales Under-20 international Tshiunza can play across the back five, with Wales naming him among their lock contingent.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: “We are looking at the here and now, and we are also looking at the 2023 World Cup. He is a great athlete, he has got a good skill-set. He obviously lacks game-time in senior rugby, but he is in a good place at Exeter in terms of working under Rob Baxter.

“He brings something that no-one else probably has in the country in terms of his height and athleticism, so it is getting him involved at an early stage for his development.

“Whether he will play rugby in this series, time will tell, but we want to get him in, get him around the senior players and get him used to the environment.”

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