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Electric Piutau will have major impact on Ulster: Court

By Michael Sadlier

He was already aware of the impact Charles Piutau had made in his short-term stay at Wasps, but Tom Court got to see him up close last weekend and was pretty impressed with what was on show from Ulster's star signing for next season.

The ex-Ulster prop was turning out for London Irish at Twickenham against Piutau's stop-gap club and Court ended up on the wrong end of the 33-15 result which currently sees the exiles rooted to the bottom of the Aviva Premiership having lost all five games and without even a point to their name.

Though Court can only voice his optimism that Irish can rescue themselves from their current predicament - they have, so far, largely faced the league's in-form sides - he found himself on much surer footing when insisting that Ulster have got the real deal with Piutau, who is due to arrive at the Kingspan Stadium in the summer.

"I think Ulster fans should be licking their lips at the prospect of him coming in," said the Brisbane-born Court who played 154 times for Ulster, of the 24-year-old Belfast-bound All Black who can play full-back, wing or centre.

"And it's really very exciting for them (the supporters) with the backline they've got there already.

"If he gets space and a bit of time on the ball not only is he electric but he's extremely skilful and he has been particularly good for Wasps in the Champions Cup.

"And though he might have been a little bit quieter against us (London Irish), he certainly came into last weekend's game towards the end."

Indeed, though Piutau didn't score against the exiles, he still topped Wasps' stats for distance made with the ball in hand as he racked up 113 metres made over the Twickenham turf. As Court - who was capped 32 times for Ireland and also had a totally unexpected cameo appearance for the British and Irish Lions two years ago after being called up while on a visit back home - readily admits, the Kiwi whose signing for Ulster ultimately cost him a place in the All Blacks' World Cup squad is staggeringly good when given the opportunity to attack.

"If Ulster can get front-foot ball from the forwards he'll be looking very dangerous and obviously, depending on where's he's playing, any kick-returns should see him really come into his own," added the 35-year-old who joined the exiles on a three-year deal in summer 2014.

"I think he'll be a very tasty prospect for Ulster and I think Bryn (Cunningham, Ulster Operations Director) has done a brilliant job in getting him."

And as for actually coming face-to-face with Piutau in the heat of battle, Court laughs off the notion that he ended up in such a situation last weekend while insisting that no player, regardless of position, would really be relishing having to deal with the New Zealander's blistering pace.

"I'm a bit smarter these days and I make sure I've got guys on each side of me (defensively) and I really wouldn't be taking him on in any situation to be honest," said the resilient loose-head prop who made 27 appearances for Irish in his first season and is now forming a front row which includes double World Cup-winning All Black Ben Franks at tight-head.

"Anyway, I wouldn't know which way to look."

While his sole focus is on trying to get some much-needed wins in the Premiership, Court also keeps an eye on how things are going at Ulster and feels that their current lowly seventh place in the PRO12 table is certain to be only temporary.

"I think Ulster will come good," he stated. "They may have a few results that haven't gone their way but I think they've got consistency and depth in the squad now.

"It's certainly not like the situation here at London Irish where to be in seventh (the exiles are in 12th), well, we'd certainly bite your hand off for it.

"Ulster are too good a team to be down there for too long.

"The likes of Connacht (currently topping the table) and Edinburgh (in sixth) have done well but it tends to be the teams who can really hold their form over Christmas and the Six Nations that will actually come out looking good at the other end."

Apply that theory and Ulster's experience along with their apparent strength in depth should see them ascend the PRO12 table.

Yes, but how they could do with Mr Piutau at the Kingspan now.

Belfast Telegraph


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