Breakthrough Candidates: Wales

Warren Gatland’s return as head coach has come at a critical point for Wales, with the Guinness Six Nations just 30 days away.

Warren Gatland’s return as head coach has come at a critical point for Wales, with the Guinness Six Nations just 30 days away.

Eternally associated with the likes of Jamie Roberts, Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones, Gatland will now have to call on a new generation if he wants his side to pose a serious threat in the spring.

So, with a crucial year of rugby ahead for Wales, it is time to look at three players who could make a name for themselves on the international stage in 2023.

Theo Cabango

Theo Cabango first got the rugby world talking when he showed off his electric pace to score against Harlequins in the Heineken Champions Cup.

That score in December 2021 was the first of four in 10 appearances for the Cardiff winger last season, and this term he has gone from strength to strength.

The 21-year-old has made eight appearances already this campaign, scoring another two tries and showing off his raw pace and insane stepping ability.

Former England Rugby Sevens captain Rob Vickerman has already compared the prodigy to South Africa star Cheslin Kolbe, high praise indeed for such a young player.

The younger brother of Wales international footballer Ben Cabango, sporting excellence clearly runs in the family, but it looks as if 2023 could be Theo’s year.

Joe Hawkins

Joe Hawkins spent 2022 cementing himself as one of the most exciting prospects in Wales, and now he hopes to show he can do it on the grandest stage in 2023.

He is the son of David Hawkins, who played in the centre for Aberavon, Carmarthen Quins and Tonmawr, while his uncle Dan was a scrum half for Swansea, Neath and Bonymaen.

However, Hawkins carved out his own path last term, captaining Wales Under-20s after making a big impact for the Ospreys while still just 19.

Since turning 20, the young centre has stepped up again, earning a spot in the Wales squad for the 2022 Autumn Nations Series and making his debut against Australia.

He showed he has nerves of steel when he converted a late penalty against Italy to clinch victory in the 2022 Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series, and the back also possesses power, pace and a precise passing range that any experienced professional would be proud of.

Having already shown what he can do in the senior side, 2023 could be the year that Hawkins makes the 12 shirt his own.

Christ Tshiunza

Christ Tshiunza already has the backing of former Wales captain Sam Warburton after bursting onto the scene in 2022.

After all, he is an alumnus of Whitchurch High School, a sporting institution that has produced the likes of Gareth Bale, Geraint Thomas and Warburton himself.

And 2023 will be another crucial year for the 20-year-old forward.

The Exeter Chiefs star first made a name for himself when he was called up by Wales for the 2021 Under-20 Six Nations Championship, where he played in four matches and scored the opening try in their final game against Scotland.

Tshiunza backed it up upon his return to Chiefs, starting this Gallagher Premiership Rugby season superbly.

One of the highlights came early on when the back row crossed the whitewash twice, including a score in the final play of the game, to earn Exeter Chiefs a 43-42 win over Harlequins in Round 2.

Despite his age, Tshiunza already has three Wales caps to his name, and fans can be sure that that number will increase by the end of 2023.

The young prospect made his debut as a teenager against Fiji at Principality Stadium in November 2021, and he has the skill, athleticism and size to excel for Wales for years to come.

So, 2023 could be the year that Tshiunza cements himself as a starter in Gatland’s side.