Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

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Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by mikerob » Mon Sep 25, 2017 4:22 pm

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/ ... -interview
I really had to see the bigger picture,” Charles Piutau says as he considers the wrench of abandoning his Test career with the All Blacks to play for Ulster and, from next season, Bristol. Piutau, a dynamic full-back who can also play on the wing, will become the world’s most highly paid rugby player when he joins Bristol. Yet his motives are more than mercenary and reflect his arduous childhood as well as the growing problems for Test rugby.

“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 the tough Auckland suburb of Mangere. Five girls were born before, in a matching rush, five boys followed. Piutau and his four brothers “lived in the garage”. He says: “We had three beds and a couple of bunk beds. 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.”

On an unusually sunny day in Belfast, at the gleaming Ulster fortress of the Kingspan Stadium, Piutau is in an expansive mood after signing a contract to join Bristol next season. It is a two-year deal, earning Piutau £1m a season, which has been described as “sensational” and one to send “shockwaves” through world rugby because the 25-year-old should be at the peak of his Test career.

Bristol play in the Championship against teams such as Hartpury College and Rotherham Titans. It’s a long way from Test rugby and Piutau will join Bristol even in the unlikely event they are not promoted. But they are bankrolled by their billionaire owner Stephen Lansdown and Bristol will probably swagger into the Premiership and unleash Piutau – the Pro12 Players’ Player of the Year for his thunderous exploits in an Ulster shirt last season.

His huge deal with Bristol could represent a lasting sea-change – with players choosing lucrative club contracts over a Test career – as it has been accompanied by troubling introspection for international rugby. Australia and Argentina are frail imitations of their usual Test-match selves – with the Wallabies struggling to draw a crowd of 14,000 for their most recent home match and the Pumas losing 13 of their past 15 Tests. South Africa, who are New Zealand’s greatest rivals, were humiliated 57-0 by the All Blacks this month. The gap between New Zealand and the rest appears significant – even if England, while winning 19 of their past 20 Tests, have not faced the world champions for three years.

Piutau made his All Black debut in June 2013, against France, and won his 17th and last cap against a combative Springbok side in July 2015. Those memories light up his face and suggest that, despite his obvious happiness playing for Ulster, he still misses Test rugby.

“I only played the last 10 minutes against France but I was so happy. You dream about that moment for so long – and so it felt surreal. At the same time it felt right and amazing. And then my last Test at Ellis Park was very tough. So I have great memories and I was lucky enough to have a perfect record. Played 17, won 17.”

Surely Piutau still feels a little ache when thinking of the All Blacks? “It was more like that when you first come over and you’re looking back: ‘Oh man, how nice it was playing in that jersey.’ You miss it. But I’ve become an All Black fan now. I just cheer them on. You see guys you played alongside that are still doing well in the jersey and you’re happy for them.”

Did he follow the compelling series between New Zealand and the British & Irish Lions? “I was in Auckland for the first Test,” he says enthusiastically. “I saw the other two games on TV but it meant so much to see that first Test at Eden Park because I played there for the Blues. It was awesome.”

In swapping a black Test jersey for Ulster’s white shirt, Piutau endured the disappointment of exclusion from New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup squad. He could have kept his decision a secret but he announced in March 2015 that he would be joining Ulster 16 months later. The All Blacks head coach, Steve Hansen, was reputedly angry and the New Zealand Rugby Union was intransigent.

“That was the hardest point in my career so far,” Piutau says. “It was another dream to play in a World Cup – and falling short was tough. 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.”

Once he was axed from Hansen’s squad the NZRU refused to endorse an extension of Piutau’s contract with the Blues. He faced seven months outside of rugby and was relieved to be offered a short-term deal in England. He did well at Wasps, alongside his brother Siale, with whom he will be reunited at Bristol, and made the Premiership team of the 2015-16 season.

“London is a big, busy city,” Piutau says, “but I prefer Belfast. During my first few weeks in London I’d be walking around smiling at people and they look at you like you’re weird. But in Belfast you’ve got people stopping and chatting to you, laughing and joking around. It took a while to get the accent but now, when my family come over, I’m almost translating.”

Piutau laughs before underlining his rapturous reception at Ulster. “The club have really welcomed me. I remember my first game against Dragons – running out and hearing the crowd singing the Ulster song and the band playing and everyone cheering me. Even the quietness before kicks stood out. In the southern hemisphere you get abused. So it’s been very special.”

Does the southern hemisphere’s disparaging attitude towards rugby in the north continue? “Definitely. I was the same. I was oblivious to northern hemisphere rugby. There are lots of closed mindsets towards rugby here. But Ulster has been an eye-opener. I thought they’d kick a lot but the style is changing and sides are running more. The quality is pretty much the equal of the southern hemisphere.”

Ulster lead Conference B in the expanded Pro14 competition, which now includes two South African teams, and have won all four opening matches. That upbeat start matches a vibrant Belfast – which has changed so much since the darkness of the Troubles.

“I knew nothing at all,” Piutau says when asked if he had a rudimentary knowledge of the sectarian conflict. “Once I signed everyone would tell me their version of what happened and I was like: ‘Are you sure?’ It wasn’t until I got here that I looked into things. I’ve found it very interesting and it’s awesome how far they’ve come. Seeing different communities supporting us at this stadium is very special. It’s not like soccer where you still keep the two communities a little separate. This is the beauty of rugby uniting people.”

As Piutau is such a warm and gregarious man he must have found it hard to tell his team-mates he was leaving them for Bristol? “That’s always the hardest – saying goodbye to team‑mates, friends, coaches, management and the fans. But everyone has been understanding and it helped I could speak to the team first. I said: ‘This has been a very hard decision but I hope you all know I’ll give 100% this season. We’ve still got so much to do together.’ I was nervous at the start but I spoke from my heart. We have a lot of potential and I really want to make it a special farewell season.”

Piutau has also been enticed to Bristol by the presence his brother, and of their new coach Pat Lam and his friend and another former All Black, Steven Luatua. “Pat gave me my first Super Rugby opportunity. I only had two weeks with him at Auckland before he came to Connacht. But you could see his character and before he left he advised me to keep working hard and staying hungry to learn. It’s incredible we’ll work together again and I’ll be there with my brother and Steven – who I’ve played with since we were kids. Those familiar faces were a big pull.”

Piutau will become rugby’s first million-pound man but he seems too grounded and bright to be blinded by that tag. “I’m still a Pacific Island kid who remembers our upbringing – and I hope to inspire other Pacific Island kids that you can do whatever you want to do. I’ve taken a place on the board of the Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare (PRPW) association because we come from a very small community which is big on family and village support. Lots of guys end up in Europe and find it difficult to transition. We support them.”

Michael Jones, the great All Black, once told me how he struggled to conquer the innate reserve embedded into his Polynesian upbringing. How did Piutau overcome his own diffidence away from the heat of battle? “It took a while but funnily enough I led a hip-hop dance group in high school. That really helped as I was leading 60 guys and I was also head prefect at school. So I got used to speaking in front of people.”

Is he still breakdancing to old school hip-hop? Piutau laughs. “I’m not sure my body’s up to that. But in terms of music now I could go from country to opera. I grew up listening to music my siblings played and opera just grew on me. There are young Pacific Islanders into opera now and we’ve got a three-man opera group called Sole Mio. I’ve seen them live and they’re great.”

Away from Test rugby, Piutau can open himself to new experiences whether it’s living in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast or listening to opera. He remains committed to Ulster this season and Bristol next year and the future of international rugby is in the hands of others. Piutau can concentrate on his own career and those who mean most to him.

“I speak to my dad about his early struggles when he moved to Auckland. 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.”

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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Dave » Mon Sep 25, 2017 4:27 pm

Piutau out for encouraging the band.
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by big mervyn » Mon Sep 25, 2017 5:27 pm

Two different communities supporting the team. That would be the BT9 Massive and the Cultra Crew :lol:
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Tender » Mon Sep 25, 2017 5:50 pm

And here was me thinking he meant Men and Women...
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by bazzaj » Mon Sep 25, 2017 6:33 pm

At the end of the day CP is a sad by product of professionalism, chasing the dollar around the world at the expense of loyalty and achievement.
Afoa was the same along with countless others.

Whereas it's understandable to want to forge a living it' makes me consider how special the likes of Pienaar and Muller were by taking a wage but also forging bonds with the club and community that will never be broken.
It is possible to do both.

I am convinced that Ruans legacy long outlasts Piutaus money.
It all comes down to what matters more I suppose.

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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by justinr73 » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:03 pm

He's not a sad by product of anything.

He's a hugely talented lad who has escaped humble upbringings/poverty by excelling at sport and finding a way to provide for his family (and, from his culture, that doesn't just mean a wife and two kids).

I don't think that comparing him with Ruan, a son of an international who went to posh school in Bloemfontein, (and who presumably didn't leave SA purely for the good of his health), is either fair or entirely logical.

Have a read of this. I was speaking to Dan on Saturday prior to him flying out to France to launch the PRPW over there.

https://www.therugbypaper.co.uk/feature ... r-dan-leo/

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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Dave » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:38 pm

Is Ruan happy in France?
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Rooster » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:48 pm

Can't compare to Johann Muller either as he has a substantial farm beside Mossul Bay
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by jean valjean » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:53 pm

Charlie is what he is. A talented player who because of his upbringing prefers to look after his family than chase trophys. I certainly don't begrudge him a penny and hope he leaves Ulster with good memories.

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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by BaggyTrousers » Mon Sep 25, 2017 9:51 pm

I have nothing but respect for the PI's culture of supporting the family to the best of their ability and that, of course, runs to their extended family. So I have no axe to grind with Chuck, we heard he was coming for two years, some thought he wouldn't leave Wasps, he was good to his word & I for one never ever thought he would be here for longer than the single contract though I did think he may well have gone back to NZ & the All Blacks.

What his next contract pays him is absolutely of only passing interest to me. Good luck to him for the future, I won't be following his Bristol career whereas I'm more than interested in Ruan at Montpellier.

On the other hand, I do take Jizzbeg's point on how I will remember him compared to Ruan or Johann, I will always have some love for the 2 guys for what they brought to Ulster. Charless just doesn't compare.

He has been like a tasty confection, not longlasting on the taste buds but a brief delight. I have to say I was largely underwhelmed by him initially, you could see the skills & the ability, but he was being wasted at 15 and didn't to me appear to have the skill set for a 15, I like mine to have a good kicking game like Girrid does in spades. Of course, we know that he is hugely better as a winger and FOLK was a bloody waster with his talent, he looks like he's intent of wasting the second year too. :roll:

Lionel, thanks for the link, by the way, interesting stuff. :thumleft:
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by bazzaj » Mon Sep 25, 2017 11:29 pm

All OK but when a guy picks playing for Bristol over the All Blacks and World Cups I can't help but think that's sad.
Note I specifically didn't say Justin that he was sad just talking about the situation, more a commentary on the state of affairs brought about by professionalism.
I don't think he would have been exactly living from soup kitchens had he stayed in New Zealand btw which seems to be a general inference.

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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Dave » Tue Sep 26, 2017 7:33 am

I think that NZ rugby shafting him and blocking him from playing for the blues in 2015 might have something to do with him not returning.
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by againstthehead » Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:39 am

bazzaj wrote:All OK but when a guy picks playing for Bristol over the All Blacks and World Cups I can't help but think that's sad.
Note I specifically didn't say Justin that he was sad just talking about the situation, more a commentary on the state of affairs brought about by professionalism.
I don't think he would have been exactly living from soup kitchens had he stayed in New Zealand btw which seems to be a general inference.
As far as I know he was living in a garage at one stage or perhaps it was a brother of his. A lot of pacific islanders and Maori live in tough conditions and have huge families. Rugby tends to be a way out for the lucky few and it's their culture to share what they have between everyone. I absolutely see you your point in terms that it's sad that he has to turn his back on an international career at such a young age. However, on the other hand perhaps he's turning his back on a dream to support his wider family. Rugby is a short career so if he has a big family then even a few million will get eaten up quick enough.
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Cornerfleg » Tue Sep 26, 2017 10:34 am

Warning - Off Topic Alert - well sort of...

Have yiz read Billy Vinupolo's interview on BBC sport. Just want to pick up on the "I'm Tongan fist and English second" ... in light of the points Jazzer made and Charlie's honesty here ... I'm actually of the mind set that neither of them should have had international caps for NZ and England ...

I have absolutely no qualms about Charlie's decision, I wsh him well and will support him this season, I think it shows rugby means different things to different people.

But if they both are proud Tongans ... and why not ... what the feck are they doing in Black and white shirts respectively. That's sad in my book.

Mind having said that I couldn't locate a feck in a feck factory for my interest in international ballix, draw a wee line on a map, sing a wee song about it, cry a bit ... maybe do a wee dance ... and play for whoever might pick you for a good handshake - it's a con people ... I have as much passion for thon shat as Baggy does for 7s.
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Re: Charles Piutau interview in Grauniad

Post by Dave » Tue Sep 26, 2017 10:46 am

Off topic
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