38 Charles Piutau [2013-2015] CAPS 17
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.