Piutau won his second cap for Tonga last weekend.

Ex-Ulster sensation Piutau at the heart of Tonga's fine start to RWC prep

The 31-year-old fullback was brilliant in a win over a strong Australia A side.

IT’S JUST OVER five years since Charles Piutau was darting around in an Ulster jersey, but the memories of his ferocious power, dazzling footwork, and outrageous offloading surely remain fresh in the minds of the northern province’s fans.

If we’re talking about individuals who can blow a game open with their brilliance, then Piutau is a prime example.

He did it for Ulster for two seasons before moving on to Bristol, who he has just left in order to join the Shizuoka BlueRevs. Before heading on that new adventure in Japan’s ever-growing League One competition, Piutau will be one of Tonga’s stars at the World Cup, where they will face Ireland in Pool B. This will be Piutau’s first World Cup, having been left out by the All Blacks in 2015 after confirming a move to Wasps.

Having previously won 17 caps for New Zealand, Auckland native Piutau switched allegiance to the Tongans last year. His last All Blacks cap came back in 2015 so he had more than served the three-year stand-down period.

Piutau qualifies for Tonga through his parents. His older brother, Siale, captained Tonga to the last World Cup before retiring from international rugby. 

Charles’ debut came against Fiji in last year’s Pacific Nations Cup on the same day as former Wallabies fullback Isreal Folau won his first cap. There was no doubt in Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu’s mind that Piutau would be his new first-choice number 15, with Folau lining up on the right wing.

Last weekend, the pair made their second appearances for the ‘Ikale Tahi and Piutau was at fullback with Folau wearing the number 14 shirt again.

There were several other stars in the Tonga team, including ex-All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa and Vaea Fifita, debutant Toulouse centre Pita Ahki, and relentless Moana Pasifika back row Solomone Funaki, but Piutau was the most eye-catching player as Kefu’s team recorded a 27-21 win over a strong Australia A team.

It was an excellent start to Tonga’s World Cup build-up in front of a passionate home crowd in Nukuʻalofa, with Piutau at the heart of most of the best stuff as Tonga built a remarkable 24-0 half-time lead that showed their potential.

31-year-old Piutau scored his first Tonga try in the third minute and he was key to injecting momentum into the Tongan attack soon before dotting down as he linked with 34-year-old Folau down the right-hand side.

Watch below as Folau throws a brilliant one-handed offload to Piutau in behind an Australian tackle.


Piutau then shows his power to break the initial tackle attempt on him before offloading when the second tackle sticks.

Tonga’s forwards carry strongly and then five phases later, out-half William Havili takes advantage of the narrowed-up Australian defence to float a pass wide to Piutau, whose finish is commanding.


Tonga’s potent start clearly shook the Australia A team, who struggled to steady the ship until an improved second half.

Soon after his try, Piutau used his left foot to make a long clearing kick from inside the Tongan 22, sparking a kick exchange that left the Aussies pinned in their own half, where they conceded a penalty. A second Tongan try followed through left wing Fine Inisi.

In the build-up to their third, Piutau showed his value as a distributor, as we see below.


Having set up as second receiver, Pituau has helped to organise a bit of shape outside him and makes a good decision to pass out the back of Inisi, whose run draws in an Australian defender, allowing Ahki to make inroads.

Piutau then follows up by picking the ball from the breakdown and surging forward, drawing a high tackle penalty from the Aussies.


Tonga score from that subsequent penalty pressure, with Funaki smashing his way over.

The Tongans added their fourth try in the 34th minute and Piutau was once again at the heart of it.

An Australia knock-on gives Tonga a promising midfield scrum and we can see Piutau having a word with scrum-half Sonatane Takulua, clearly giving him directions for what’s to follow.


The Tongan play is simple and clever. As indicated below, Takalua darts to the right of the scrum in order to lure opposite number Jake Gordon and Aussie number eight Seru Uru across to that side, initially at least.

The aim is to give Piutau, circled in blue, as much space and time on the ball as possible.


Tonga number eight Vaea Fifita hits Piutau with an accurate pass and then we see the devastating effect his footwork and offloading ability can have as he gets outside centre Joey Walton and drags wing Lachie Anderson in, giving Inisi space down the left touchline.


It’s a beauty of a one-handed offload by Piutau. From there, Inisi chips ahead and Tonga get a rather fortuitous bounce, allowing them to score.


Fittingly, it’s Takulua who dives on the ball to ground it, having sprinted upfield after his dummy run to the right of the scrum.


The second half wasn’t as comfortable for Tonga as they were forced to do more defending.

Piutau only had to make two tackles in the game, but they were both important.

In the minutes after half time, Australia A broke through in midfield and Piutau needed to make this try-saving tackle on Lachlan Swinton.


Piutau is swiftly back to his feet and almost intercepts Swinton’s offload but knocks it forward instead. The Australians do score from the ensuing scrum. 

The Tongan fullback is a major threat on kick return and he showed that ability in the 54th minute.

Watch below as Piutau spots replacement Australian tighthead prop Sam Talakai, uses his goosestep to accelerate almost back downfield initially but outside Talakai, scorch past him to break, then find an inside pass to former Connacht lock Leva Fifita.


Late on in the game, Piutau shows his alertness to scoop up a loose ball and offload to Folau, who nearly sneaks through.


While the Tongans will be frustrated with their relative lack of control in the second half, the win over Australia A was a decent start to their World Cup preparations.

Piutau was involved in so much of their best work, underlining how key he will be when it comes to Pool B in France, where they face Ireland in their opening game on 16 September in Nantes. 

This weekend, things move up a notch for Kefu’s side as they travel to face Fiji, who boast their own array of exciting stars.

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