38 Charles Pi­u­tau [2013-2015] CAPS 17

NZ Rugby World - - Green Tea Party -

Charles Pi­u­tau was a hugely promis­ing, ver­sa­tile out­side back with the abil­ity to es­tab­lish him­self as a longterm All Black.

A prod­uct of Wes­ley Col­lege, he was dis­ci­plined, de­ter­mined, hard-work­ing, gifted and tough.

He had ev­ery­thing he needed to thrive in top flight rugby and he pro­gressed from school, into the Auck­land team, to the hugely suc­cess­ful New Zealand Un­der 20 side that won the 2011 Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship, to the Blues and then in 2013 into the All Blacks.

Most com­fort­able at full­back, he made his test de­but against France in June on the wing with enough class and poise to be­come a bench reg­u­lar through­out the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

By the end of year tour, Pi­u­tau, still only 22, was com­mand­ing a start­ing spot on the wing ahead of the likes of Cory Jane and Hosea Gear.

He was too good to be left out and in Paris, against a French team that was prov­ing sur­pris­ingly re­silient, Pi­u­tau made all the di er­ence.

He scored one try with a flash of bril­liance and made an­other with a mir­a­cle pass, and it was a per­for­mance with such prom­ise that the All Blacks coaches knew that Pi­u­tau, brave and ac­cu­rate un­der the high ball as well, would be­come a reg­u­lar se­lec­tion in their back three.

But in March 2015, Pi­u­tau shocked ev­ery­one when he signed with Ul­ster. It was a de­ci­sion that no one saw com­ing and ended up with a num­ber of con­se­quences.

The first was that the New Zealand Rugby Union learned they had to be care­ful about how they ne­go­ti­ated with young, fringe All Blacks such as Pi­u­tau.

When ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan about ex­tend­ing his con­tract in Jan­uary 2015, the na­tional body wasn’t o er­ing a huge amount of money.

They were still of the mindset that the most at-risk play­ers in New Zealand were older, more ex­pe­ri­enced per­form­ers who had a global rep­u­ta­tion.

There was an as­sump­tion that young­sters with it all ahead of them would au­to­mat­i­cally stay in New Zealand be­cause the lure of test caps would be too hard to re­sist. They found out through Pi­u­tau that wasn’t true.

“I’m ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed he’s go­ing,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “He was a per­son we were hop­ing would grow over time af­ter this World Cup into one of our se­nior play­ers. We’ve put a lot of time and e ort into him so we’re dis­ap­pointed he’s de­cided to go down that route.”

The big thing the NZRU had to learn is that they need to have a more di­verse view in re­gard to how play­ers as­sess their ca­reers.

Pi­u­tau is one of 10 chil­dren and was de­ter­mined – as is the Pa­cific Is­land way – to be a ma­jor fi­nan­cial con­trib­u­tor to his fam­ily. When Ul­ster came in with a re­ported $1 mil­lion a year, he felt he had to sac­ri­fice his All Blacks am­bi­tions for the greater good of his fam­ily.

“I’m the same as any is­lan­der boy, be they from a Samoan or Ton­gan back­ground,” he said re­cently. “We have our par­ents to thank for what they did to get us here. We’re the fruits of their labours and it is im­por­tant that we pay back what they did for us with our tal­ents.”

Pi­u­tau’s de­ci­sion to leave also in­flu­enced many in his im­me­di­ate peer group. He had come through the Auck­land de­vel­op­ment sys­tem with other play­ers from sim­i­lar back­grounds such as Fran­cis Saili and Steven Lu­atua, who have both also left for o shore con­tracts at a sur­pris­ingly young age.

I’M THE SAME AS ANY IS­LAN­DER BOY, BE THEY FROM A SAMOAN OR TON­GAN BACK­GROUND. WE HAVE OUR PAR­ENTS TO THANK FOR WHAT THEY DID TO GET US HERE. WE’RE THE FRUITS OF THEIR LABOURS AND IT IS IM­POR­TANT THAT WE PAY BACK WHAT THEY DID FOR US WITH OUR TAL­ENTS.’ CHARLES PI­U­TAU

BIG SUR­PRISE Charles Pi­u­tau showed NZR that young play­ers can be in­flu­enced by money to leave.

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