Piutau roots not forgotten

He may be about to become the world's highest paid rugby player, but former All Black Charles Piutau is as grounded as they come.

The 25-year-old could now be at the peak of his powers and dominating the international game while continuing to wear the silver fern with pride, however, it's a far different path which he is now travelling.

The decision to leave NZ and play overseas is going to reap mighty financial benefits for Piutau, a talented and powerful outside back who will become the sport's first million-pound man when he leaves Ulster at the end of the season to join Bristol.

But despite all the attention that that very public contract figure brings, the former Auckland and Blues utility doesn't seem phased by the prospect, and remains a humble figure who has certainly not forgotten his roots. 

In an interview with The Guardian, Piutau explained how his original decision to shift away from representing his country - for whom he managed a perfect record, with 17 wins from 17 tests - was an extremely tough one, but at the same one that he was certainly willing to take up for the good of his family.

He admitted there was some ache of missing the All Blacks when he first moved overseas, but now he has got used to being a fan.

"I really had to see the bigger picture," he said.

"When I was in New Zealand it felt like the All Blacks were everything. It felt like you were going to play forever. You felt invincible. But, taking a step back, you realise it's such a short career.

"For me, what really hit home was remembering everything my parents had done for me and my siblings. They left Tonga for New Zealand to give us better opportunities. And for me, coming here, I had the same chance to do something similar for my family."

Piutau is the youngest of 10 children who grew up in Mangere. Five girls came first, then the five boys, who "lived in the garage".

"We had three beds and a couple of bunk beds," Piutau said.

"I guess they were hard times but it never felt like that. It speaks volumes for my parents that I never thought 'I'm still hungry' or 'I need clothes.' But you look back at 12 people needing to be fed and you think: 'How did they do it?' I just take the positives – the love they showed and the discipline they taught us."

Piutau's two-year deal with Bristol - who are a long way from test rugby, currently playing in the second-tier of the English setup - is one that highlights the growing trend of players choosing clubs over country, and which could further diminish the international game, and he looks back on his All Blacks career with absolute fond memories.

When it ended, it did so in abrupt fashion, and it was the hardest point in his career.

"It was another dream to play in a World Cup - and falling short was tough," Piutau said.

"But the Ulster offer came out of the blue. I was counting on my agent agreeing a contract with New Zealand and he had to tell me about Ulster the night before we were meant to finalise things. I was like: 'You've got to give me two weeks to think about this.' I wasn't thinking of coming overseas."

After being relieved to earn a short-term deal at Wasps, alongside brother Siate, who he will reunite with at Bristol, Piutau got into the swing of the northern hemisphere game, and notes it isn't as far removed from the southern hemisphere style as many think, in fact labelling the quality as equal.

With former team-mate Steven Luatua and past coach Pat Lam to be familiar faces at Bristol that was a big pull, as of course was the money. But for the right reasons. 

"I speak to my dad about his early struggles when he moved to Auckland," Piutau said.

"He'd be working three different jobs - labouring and taxi driving. It was really hard for my parents but we've come a long way and one of the best feelings is knowing that my family are happy and secure. They're proud of what I'm doing and where I am."


Photo: ANTHONY PHELPS/REUTERS (Caption: Charles Piutau had a perfect record with the All Blacks - 17 tests for 17 wins - before deciding to head overseas)