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Wales v Portugal – Players to Watch

Wales’ starting line-up against Portugal on Saturday is littered with players who could provide foundation stones for teams way beyond the current World Cup.

Exeter locks Dafydd Jenkins and Christ Tshiunza are just 20 and 21, centre Mason Grady is 21, wing Louis Rees-Zammit 22 and captain Dewi Lake only 24, highlighting a rich seam of young talent available to head coach Warren Gatland.

Tshiunza’s journey has taken him from his birthplace – Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – to Exeter Chiefs, via Whitchurch High School in Cardiff after he and his family left a country rife with civil war 13 years ago.

To have now arrived at a World Cup just eight months after his 21st birthday underlines a searing rate of progress on the rugby pitch.

“It is very surreal, considering in 2010 I didn’t even know what rugby was,” said Tshiunza..

“I was with Mason (Wales centre Mason Grady) four years ago, we were going to a Wales Under-18s tournament in South Africa and we were just saying it would be class to be at the next World Cup, and now we are here.

“I feel like I am living a dream at the moment, so after all of this we will look back and think ‘wow, that was really good’. I am just happy to be here and I am trying to enjoy every moment so far.”

Tshiunza will make his first appearance in the tournament on Saturday, when he will be partnered in the second-row by his Exeter colleague Jenkins.

But there are some old heads, too, and maybe to most significant is Gareth Anscombe.

The Wales No.10 missed the 2019 tournament in Japan when he wrecked his knee in a tournament warm-up match against England at Twickenham.

Anscombe had not played much of a part in the 2015 tournament, either, after injury problems and for a time it looked as if he was in danger of missing this tournament as well.

But he recovered a from a fractured bone in his thumb to take his place in the squad and get his chance now in place of Dan Biggar.

Anscombe offers something different to Biggar, and to Sam Costelow, as well. If the former Ospreys playmaker – who is off to Japan after the World Cup – can get some more width and fluency into the back line, then Gatland may have some thinking to do.

When Wales won their last Six Nations title under Gatland in 2019, it was Anscombe who was the starting No.10, with Biggar playing the role of “finisher” and it’s possible that could provide the format if Anscombe goes well against the Portuguese.

Portugal have an impressive record over recent years in Sevens rugby but have yet to transfer that progress fully to the 15-a-side game.

If they do manage to cause Wales problems, one player likely to be at the centre of things is 22-year-old wing Raffaele Storti.

With 17 international tries, Stortie is his side’s most potent attacking threat.

He crossed the whitewash three times in as many games during the decisive final qualification tournament, including Portugal’s only try in the draw against the USA which secured World Cup qualification.

That spot was sealed with the final kick of the game from nerveless fly-half Samuel Marques.

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