Young Gun - Christ Tshiunza
By Neale Harvey of the Rugby Paper
From war-torn Congo to the top of international rugby, that’s the dream of 18-year-old back row-cum-lock Christ Tshiunza as he embarks on a new career with Exeter Chiefs.
Having arrived in Wales aged seven after his parents decided central Africa was no longer a fit place to raise children, Tshiunza admits his transition to UK life was difficult. However, he soon flourished as a budding athlete before discovering the joys of rugby at Rhiwbina RFC.
Tshiunza explains: “My whole family are from Congo but with the political situation and civil wars the country was going through, my mum and dad decided it was no longer safe. I only have vague memories of the place but we were quite lucky to get out when we did.
“When you come to a new country you haven’t got much going for you financially but, after initially living in Splott, in Cardiff, we found our feet and moved to Llandaff. It was very hard for me in the first two years because I didn’t have the language, but I did a lot of extra homework and got better and as time went by I got into athletics and found I was pretty good at that.
“I did a lot of sprinting and high jump and was invited into the Welsh county championships through the age groups. I was best for my age group at high jump for quite a long time, with a best of 1.80m (5ft 11ins) in 2018, and a career in athletics might have been an option, but by then rugby was going pretty well and I had to make a decision on which one I would do.”
Rugby won the day and having taking up the sport at 14, so rapid was his progress that he soon moved on to the radar of Cardiff Blues. A rapid growth spurt – “I grew four or five inches in 2016 and am now 6ft 7ins (2.01m),” says Tshiunza – meant he emerged as a natural second row, but the Chiefs see him primarily as a back row, where his pace can do the most damage.
He explained: “The athletics helped with my jumping ability in rugby and I’m pretty quick. Two years after starting rugby I was playing for the Blues U16s and they’d obviously have liked to keep me, but I wanted to go to Exeter University to study Sports Science and much of my decision to leave Wales and join the Chiefs was based on that.
“Rob Gibson, Exeter’s academy manager, made me feel very welcome and I got really good vibes from Rob Baxter as well. I found it a very welcoming place so I’ll go down there full-time next month and try to really develop my game.”
Tshiunza has represented Wales at U18 level and has good role models to follow. He added: “Maro Itoje’s done very well for himself and is a very consistent player, and I like Alun Wyn Jones for his leadership, so they’re the guys I look up to.”