The New Zealand head coach faces losing one of his most versatile backs at a time when a number of experienced All Blacks are also heading overseas after this year’s Rugby World Cup.
We’ve put a lot of time and effort into him so we’re disappointed he’s decided to go down that route.
Steve Hansen on Piutau’s decision to leave New Zealand
Piutau’s contract with Ulster begins on 1 July 2016, but the 23-year-old hopes to stay with the Blues franchise for the 2016 Super Rugby season, despite his unavailability for New Zealand’s summer series against Wales that summer and the Rugby Championship.
With the expanded 18-club Super Rugby tournament in 2016 expected to revert to its usual end date in August, Piutau also has a complication of whether or not he will be able to play for an entire season for the Blues, if he can agree a short-term deal.
An Ulster spokesman confirmed to The Sport Review on Tuesday afternoon that they expect the player to be in Belfast when his contract begins.
“I’m extremely disappointed he’s going,” Hansen said.
“He was a person we were hoping would grow over time after this World Cup in to one of our senior players.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into him so we’re disappointed he’s decided to go down that route.”
The Blues back, who can play on the wing, at full-back, or at centre, has 14 All Blacks caps and four Test tries to his name since making his debut against France in 2013 and was set to be in contention to make Hansen’s World Cup squad and become a senior player in years to come.
We’ve got a duty to pick the best team, but at the same time if two guys are vying for one spot then things like commitment and experience come into it.
Steve Hansen on Piutau’s availability for the World Cup
Despite having a two-year extension on the table with New Zealand Rugby and the Blues, he had his head turned by a lucrative move north, and that decision could now hit his hopes of boarding the All Blacks’ plane to England in September as he battles with Israel Dagg and Cory Jane to be one of the four members of Hansen’s back three when he names his squad this summer.
Dagg and Jane have both signed up with New Zealand Rugby until 2017, while Piutau’s reported £1 million contract, and playing in a Blues side that has lost six from six in this year’s Super Rugby campaign, could see him edged out with Ben Smith and Julian Savea nailed on to make the plane.
And Hansen admits that Piutau’s decision has made his selection more difficult unless the dynamic back can find his best form between now and June.
“Does it make him ineligible for the World Cup? No it doesn’t,” Hansen added.
“But it does make it harder for him.
“He’s going to have to play really, really well.
“We’ve got a duty to pick the best team, but at the same time if two guys are vying for one spot then things like commitment and experience come into it.
“Not only are you picking for today, but you’re also picking for tomorrow.
“That’s what we’ve done with him for three years.”
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