Guinness PRO12: Ulster confirm Charles Piutau signing for 2016/17

Versatile All Blacks back expected to land in Belfast on 1 July 2016 on a big-money deal that will signal the end of his international ambitions

The Sport Review staff
By The Sport Review staff

Ulster Rugby have confirmed that versatile All Blacks back Charles Piutau will join in 2016 on a two-year deal.

The 23-year-old, who can play at full-back, wing, or at centre, has played 36 matches for the Blues in Super Rugby, scoring eight tries.

When I spoke with Ulster I was impressed with what they had to say, and I am excited about their future plans.

Charles Piutau on swapping Auckland for Belfast

Reportedly worth around £1 million, the contract with the Guinness PRO12 club will see one of New Zealand rugby’s most exciting backs become one of rugby’s best paid players when he arrives in Belfast in July 2016.

But the move, which has sent shockwaves around New Zealand in the same week that Blues back-row forward Jerome Kaino committed himself to the New Zealand rugby beyond the British and Irish Lions tour in 2017, will end Piutau’s international career with New Zealand, including his chances of representing the All Blacks Sevens at the inaugural Rugby Sevens event at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It was a difficult decision to leave the Blues and New Zealand rugby, as I have really enjoyed my time with them so far,” said Piutau.

“However, when I spoke with Ulster I was impressed with what they had to say, and I am excited about their future plans.

“I am looking forward to moving to Belfast, experiencing a new culture and playing in the northern hemisphere.

“I can’t wait to get stuck in with my new team-mates in July 2016.”

Auckland-born Piutau began life in the Tonga age-grade set-up, representing the Ikale Tahi in the 2010 Junior World Championship in Argentina before switching allegiances to New Zealand’s U20 programme a year later.

Our aim is to produce local players with the ability to play for Ulster and Ireland and then supplement them with top-quality internationals. Charles, with his experience with the All Blacks, fits perfectly in that model.

Ulster’s Bryn Cunningham on the club’s plans

He was part of New Zealand’s 2011 Junior World Championship-winning squad that also included Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, TJ Perenara, and outside-half Gareth Anscombe, who joined Cardiff Blues earlier this season and switched allegiances to Wales.

Starting on the left wing, Piutau scored a first-half try in the Baby Blacks 33-22 win over an England U20 side featuring current Red Rose internationals George Ford, Owen Farrell, Joe Launchbury, Mako Vunipola and Henry Thomas.

He also starred in the All Blacks Sevens team that won the HSBC Sevens World Series in 2012 before graduating to the senior All Blacks side for his debut against France in June 2013.

The depth of talent available to the All Blacks has limited his involvement to just 14 internationals, with his last coming against Wales in Cardiff last November, but Ulster Rugby team manager Bryn Cunningham is convinced the Irish province have secured a world-class back.

“To secure someone of Charles’ ability is hugely exciting for us as it shows that the best players want to come and represent Ulster Rugby and that the province can attract world-class talent,” Cunningham said.

“Our aim is to produce local players with the ability to play for Ulster and Ireland and then supplement them with top-quality internationals.

“Charles, with his experience with the All Blacks, fits perfectly in that model.

“As he has shown for both the Blues and New Zealand, he has searing pace and great feet.

“He has an exceptional offloading game and he is rock-solid in defence.

“He also possesses leadership qualities and maturity beyond his years, and that came across strongly in my conversations with him.

“We could not ask for a more rounded, professional person, and I believe that he will add enormous value to our squad both on and off the pitch.”

The expanded 18-club Super Rugby season in 2016 is expected to end in late July or early August at the earliest, but an Ulster Rugby spokesman confirmed to The Sport Review that they expect Piutau to arrive in Belfast on 1 July, when his contract with them begins.

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