Belfast Telegraph

Painful lessons make us stronger: Piutau

 

By Michael Sadlier

Just in case you wondered if Charles Piutau takes defeat as something close to the fairly laid-back approach he seems to bring to most things, the Kiwi has spelt it out loud and clear.

And yes, losing is not good at all in Piutau's world which is why his visit to La Rochelle was not a memory that he particularly wants to revisit with the rawness of what happened still pinching at him despite the trademark chilled-out smile.

"It hurts a lot," said the soon to be 26-year-old when reflecting on how another trip to France ended badly for Ulster.

"In times when you're under the posts (it hurts) and then also when you're trying to regather things and figure out how to change momentum."

And he found himself participating in those unwanted huddles five times last Sunday which is not something he wants to repeat in this his final season here before joining forces with big-spending Bristol.

But just in case there might be a suggestion of any possible self-doubt creeping in regarding tomorrow's return to PRO14 action when Leinster come to the Kingspan for a much-anticipated inter-provincial derby, Piutau quickly gathers himself with a clear determination to move on.

"As much as it hurts (to lose in La Rochelle) I think it actually makes you stronger as a team that you have gone through a tough time like that," he stated.

"They're (Leinster) on a high coming in from the European Cup with two bonus (point) wins, so what bigger challenge and what better team to play this week than them?"

Last Sunday was one of those challenging occasions with even Piutau - who topped Ulster's metres made stats with an impressive 104 throughout the game and also set up Tommy Bowe's second-half try - finding the going a bit heavier than usual.

Indeed, one moment stood out and startled all who saw it because of its rarity, namely a bog-standard error from Ulster's All Black.

After terrorising the La Rochelle defence in the opening half pretty much every time he gained possession, Piutau dropped a straightforward ball at the start of the second half and then found himself holding on to possession until Nigel Owens penalised him.

It wasn't why Ulster went on to lose the game, but the sight of their star player succumbing to such human frailty couldn't have helped as Les Kiss' side reached the part of the game where any chance of a decent result was speedily swept aside.

It was just as unsettling for the 17-times-capped All Black but, for him, now is the time to hit back - and hard.

"We're hoping we can turn all that (what happened in La Rochelle) around and we'll be ready to go again on Saturday," he said.

Should Ulster win their second inter-pro of the campaign - they beat Connacht 16-8 at the Kingspan at the start of the month in a less than memorable game before their two rounds of Champions Cup action - then rest assured that Piutau will probably have some say in tomorrow's result.

Though this is his second and final season here, the Kiwi is very aware of an extra edge to proceedings when an inter-provincial derby is to be played out.

"You do notice in the build-up that it's a big week, and for a lot of the players they know players in the other team really well as they've played together internationally for many years," he said. "And even on game day there's more passion shown by the crowd knowing that it is the neighbours coming over to your home.

"Challenges like this, you don't need to say much or do anything. It's part of our desire to go out and play."

His philosophy certainly won't be any different for an Irish province. As usual, Piutau will constantly look to attack while making sure there is no dereliction of duty when it comes to clearing up at the back or putting opposing players down with his tackling.

"Whenever the ball is around you want to try and get metres," explained the player who helped create tries for Jacob Stockdale and Stuart McCloskey in the European win over his old club Wasps.

"Yeah, I am happy (with my own form) but I'm always hungry for more, to improve, and I think I can give more."

The plan tomorrow is to produce a very different performance from the one in France and Piutau has already shown that he is certainly not for easing up in his final campaign at the Kingspan and has stated that he wants to give his all to the cause before the departure to Bristol.

"I think it's special to me to be able to give everything and be playing well and put my best foot forward," he said.

And just the one try so far in six games? Even that reminder of an unwanted stat still brings the smile.

"I'm more than happy if I'm scoring or other guys are scoring," was Piutau's response.

"But as long as we're scoring, that's the main thing."

Leinster, you have been warned.

Ulster vs Leinster

Guinness PRO14 Championship:

Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, 6.30pm

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