Wales’ World Cup rookies Christ Tshiunza and Mason Grady are ready to fulfill their dreams, as the duo prepare to make their tournament bows against Portugal
- Christ Tshiunza and Mason Grady are set to make their first World Cup starts
- The Welsh pair have admitted it is ‘surreal’ being at a World Cup for the first time
- Warren Gatland has rung the changes, giving Tshiunza and Grady their chance
- Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results
As they appeared at a top-table press conference at Stade de Nice on Thursday morning, Wales’ World Cup rookies Christ Tshiunza and Mason Grady could barely believe where they were.
Both players are at their first senior global showpiece and have come a long way in a short space of time, but that particularly applies to Exeter forward Tshiunza.
Born in Kinshasa – the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo – the 21-year-old only moved to Wales in 2010 where he lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his French-speaking family. Now, he is ready to make his first World Cup appearance in France.
‘It is very surreal. In 2010 I didn’t even know what rugby was,’ said Tshiunza, who went to Whitchurch High School in Cardiff when he arrived in Wales.
Former Wales football and rugby stars Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton are both products of the same establishment, as is Welsh cycling star Geraint Thomas.
Christ Tshiunza has already modelled for Burberry and is now set to make his World Cup debut this weekend
Tshiunza will start against Portugal after Warren Gatland made wholesale changes to his side
Tshiunza, who has already modelled for Burberry, is the next cab off the rank.
He added: ‘Four years ago I was saying I would love to go to the next World Cup. I was with Mason and we were going to a Wales Under-18’s tournament in South Africa.
‘Now, we are here. I feel like I am living a dream at the moment.’
Dreams have come true for Tshiunza and Grady who showed no signs of nerves ahead of them both starting Wales’ Pool C clash with Portugal on the Cote d’Azur on Saturday.
Their press conference was hugely entertaining.
‘I started playing rugby a bit later on, in school, and if it wasn’t for the people I met in school, I probably wouldn’t be here now,’ said Tshiunza.
‘A year ago if we’d said we were definitely going to come to the World Cup, no-one would have believed us. We are all really grateful for the opportunity we have been given. It is an opportunity to play on the biggest rugby stage. We have all got to take this opportunity with both hands.’
At Whitchurch, Tshiunza was taught rugby by Steve Williams – the same man who helped guide Bale, Warburton and Thomas to sporting stardom in their respective disciplines.
Tshiunza had never seen a rugby ball when he started playing back in 2011 – the same year his Wales team-mates for this Saturday Dan Lydiate and Leigh Halfpenny were playing at the World Cup in New Zealand. But he and Grady are talented all-round sportsmen.
They both had a laugh at the press conference as they reminisced about a 2016 Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Schools high jump competition in which they competed against each other.
Tshiunza won with a jump of 1.60metres with Grady, who was a fine basketball player, in seventh.
Tshiunza will be joined in Wales’ starting XV by fellow World Cup rookie Mason Grady
Another aspiring rugby player in Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, also now with Exeter after the demise of Wasps, finished third that May day.
‘Let’s not talk about that,’ said Grady with a smile.
Tshiunza added his extended family still have no idea about the intricacies of rugby despite him reaching the game’s highest level.
He said: ‘They haven’t got a clue! Even my family that come to the games now, are like: “Where’s Christ? Oh, good job. You did something well today”.
‘They don’t know the rules but I am glad they can come and support.’
Grady is a 21-year-old Cardiff centre who made his senior Wales debut against England in the Six Nations having come through his country’s junior pathway alongside Tshiunza.
So too did Exeter midfielder Joe Hawkins who was deemed ineligible to play at this World Cup after signing for the Chiefs from Welsh region Ospreys.
‘I remember speaking with the boys and saying it would be class if we could go to the next World Cup. It was a long shot because it was only Christ who had his cap at that time,’ Grady said.
‘From there it has spiralled out of proportion.’
Grady’s half-brother is Cory Allen – the former Wales centre who scored a first-half hat-trick against Uruguay in Cardiff at the 2015 World Cup.
‘He (Allen) is averaging three tries per half in a World Cup, so I have got a lot of catching up to do there,’ Grady said.
Warren Gatland will hope to see Tshiunza and Grady make the most of their opportunity
Wales are looking to make it two wins from two after narrowly beating Fiji last weekend
After a thrilling and controversial 32-26 round-one win over Fiji in Bordeaux, Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made 13 changes for Portugal.
The baton has been passed to Wales’ young guns – the likes of Tshiunza and Grady – to continue the momentum. You sense it is a chance they do not want to waste.
Tshiunza partners his Exeter colleague Dafydd Jenkins in the second row against Portugal. The pair have just 41 years between them.
Tshiunza said: ‘It is still a bit weird. We are room-mates as well and sometimes we just lay in bed and look over at each other and say: “What are we doing here? What have we done to deserve this? It is still very surreal at the moment, but after this tournament we will look back and be glad we did it together.’
Wales team to face Portugal
Starting XV: Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, Mason Grady, Johnny Williams, Rio Dyer; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Nicky Smith, Dewi Lake (capt), Dillon Lewis, Christ Tshiunza, Dafydd Jenkins, Dan Lydiate, Tommy Reffell, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Corey Domachowski, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Taine Basham, Gareth Davies, Sam Costelow, Josh Adams
Kick-off: 4.45pm, Saturday, Nice
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