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Ulster's All Black Piutau put international career on hold to 'get out of comfort zone'

The Blues to Belfast, the centre wanted to pursue opportunities in the northern hemisphere.

Piutau was speaking in Dublin yesterday.
Piutau was speaking in Dublin yesterday.
Image: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

IF HIS CAREER had stayed on the beaten track, Charles Piutau could very well have been in Chicago this week, preparing to face Ireland in Saturday’s historic Test match at Solider Field.

Instead, the 25-year-old is on stage at Dublin’s Helix Theatre to help launch AIG Insurance’s sponsorship of the ‘Rugby Weekend.’ A box office act, if ever there was one.

Eighteen months ago, the explosive centre made the conscious, and brave, decision to step away from the New Zealand rugby set-up and pursue an opportunity in the northern hemisphere.

His departure from the Auckland Blues to initially move to Wasps and then Ulster came as a huge shock in his homeland, particularly given he had 17 All Blacks caps to his name at that stage.

But, speaking at yesterday’s event in DCU, Piutau admitted the decision to put his international career on hold wasn’t rugby-orientated.

“I think for me it was more life outside of rugby,” he said. “I wanted to get out of New Zealand, get out of my comfort zone and away from things I’m really comfortable with and try a new challenge.

Rugby Union - QBE International - England v New Zealand - Twickenham Piutau made his All Blacks debut against France in June 2013. Source: Davis Davies

“Ulster is a great opportunity for me and hence why I took it. I look at it now and I’m just another fan, I’m another supporter of the team and just enjoying what they’re doing, creating history.”

Piutau arrived in Belfast at the start of the season after a successful stint with Wasps, with the English club doing everything in their power to retain his services for the 2016/17 campaign.

However, Piutau is a man of his word and after initially signing a two-year deal with the northern province he had his heart set on coming to Belfast.

“The big thing for me was honouring my word. I am a man of my word and I just went through with what I said,” he explained, when asked was it tempting to stay in England.

“First and foremost, that was a big thing for me. I wasn’t going to change my decision. That’s rugby. You never know how well it is going to go in a team or in a season.

“I was lucky enough to have the Ulster deal there for me.”

And Ulster are lucky to have him. The Kiwi marked his home debut with a try during a pre-season friendly against Northampton and has already made a huge impression at Kingspan Stadium.

Charles Piutau Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

As the Pro12′s marquee signing, there is, naturally, a significant weight on Piutau’s shoulders to perform and meet expectations, with some quarters heralding him as the player who can help Ulster end their trophy drought.

Half an hour in his company and you come to realise that his composure on the pitch is matched by it off it. He’s as cool as they come.

“You’ve got to get use to the attention,” he says of the pressure.  “What’s really helped me is being grounded. I’m in a team and a club where we never get ahead of ourselves.

“You know where you stand. The main thing for me is just always understanding that I’m just Charles.

“My family keeps me grounded. I am the youngest of ten, so I’m always just their little brother, trying to impress my siblings. That’s how I see rugby. At the end of the day, I just love playing the game and everything that comes outside of it is what it is.”

It’s a pretty good attitude to have.

All Black Charles Piutau and former Ireland International Stephen Ferris were in The Helix Theatre in Dublin yesterday to officially launch the historic ‘Rugby Weekend’ event in Chicago, presented by AIG Insurance. Ireland play the All Blacks this Saturday in Soldier Field and The Maori All Blacks face the USA Eagles on Friday.

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Ryan Bailey

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