For the average college rugby player, pre-match preparations aren’t always the most professional. Some may have to run off campus, others may have a foggy head from yesterday’s efforts.
As Christ Tshiunza prepared to play for the University of Exeter on Wednesday, he received an unexpected phone call from Wales head coach Wayne Pivac telling him he had been named to the squad. Wales for their autumn tests.
“I was just getting my coaches ready to leave and got a call from Wayne,” said Tshiunza, who then helped his team beat Cardiff University that afternoon.
“When he told me I had to check. I thought someone was playing a joke on me. He broke the news to me and I was very happy.”
Tshiunza, it should be noted, doesn’t just play for the University of Exeter. His call wasn’t that surprising, but it was still a little earlier than expected.
The 19-year-old also plays for former England and European champions Exeter Chiefs, albeit with just four appearances as a senior substitute under his belt.
Tshiunza is 6ft 6in and 17lb 6lb, so it’s clear why Exeter was keen to sign him from Cardiff in 2019. After Tshiunza’s call on Wednesday, Pivac said: “He’s bringing something that no one else in the country probably does in terms of size and athleticism. “
Tshiunza, who can play on the second row or as a blind flanker, only made his Wales Under-20 debut earlier this year but could make his senior test debut before the end from 2021.
Like the other England-based players in the Welsh squad, Tshiunza cannot play against New Zealand on October 30 as the game rolls out of World Rugby’s official international window, but he could mark his remarkable rise with a first cap. against South Africa, Fiji or Australia. in November.
“I think this is going to be a big learning block for me,” Tshiunza said.
“And really anything added to that in terms of playing time or whatever is a bonus for me so I’m very grateful to be on a team regardless of playing time or not.
“I’m just excited to learn. We have some internationals here. [at Exeter] and they all said how much more they feel like a better player when they come back to the club [after being with their national teams]. “
The Exeter squad is full of international players and their English contingent have tried to convince their young Welsh colleague to change allegiance.
“The boys tell me about England, but I think it was always Wales for me,” Tshiunza smiles.
“They pushed and pulled me, saying ‘come to our side’, but I held on.”
Tshiunza’s teammates may have been joking, but England were serious when they reached out to Exeter to inquire about his eligibility.
“They have shown interest,” Tshiunza adds.
“It really took me by surprise. But all I have to do is train well and hopefully play well and I know my heart is on Wales right now . “
Tshiunza came from a French family and lived in DR Congo until the age of six. His family first settled in England before moving to Wales in 2010.
A promising high jumper, he only played rugby at the age of 14 and was a student at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, which is one of his alumni.
Tshiunza credits his teacher Steve Williams with his greatest influence in Whitchurch, while Warburton himself offered his advice.
“We’re actually in pretty close contact. We write to each other quite frequently,” Tshiunza said of the former Cardiff flanker.
“He was in the background but he helped me. Even when I played my first Premiership game, we talked, like, checking the nerves and [coming] off the bench and do’s and don’ts.
“Even before I started playing here at the Chiefs at school, he was giving me advice. Mr. Williams attracted him. They’re pretty close, too.
“So Mr. Williams introduced me to him and we’ve been talking for quite a while now.”
Warburton set career goals throughout his childhood and as he progressed through the ranks of Welsh rugby, and Tshiunza set a goal of playing for Wales in the 2023 World Cup. .
He first declared this intention when he was only 17 and his first call-up to Wales suggests he is ahead of his schedule.
“Obviously every rugby player would love to play in any World Cup. I was kind of talking,” Tshiunza said.
“It wasn’t a target but now I guess we can tell there might be.”