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All Black Charles Piutau speeding towards Ulster

By Amanda Ferguson

One of the fastest men in rugby is poised to kick the winter sun of New Zealand into touch for the chance to streak down the line for Ulster in the cooler climes of the Kingspan Stadium.

The surprise £1.2m two-year deal with try-scoring machine Charles Piutau would make the 23-year-old player the highest paid member of the Ulster squad by some margin.

Incredulous fans Down Under were caught unawares by the Kiwi's move, with many wondering if it was an April Fool's Day joke.

It marks a spectacular coup for Ulster as the All Black from Auckland - regarded as one of the best players in the southern hemisphere - was expected to re-sign to his current Blues club and New Zealand Rugby.

Both will be devastated to lose him. The All Blacks insist that their players must be based in New Zealand for team building and training purposes, which is part of what makes them such a fearsome and tight-knit unit.

Piutau's online biography indicates he is a man of religious faith - he says he is on #TeamJesus online Christian community and is "living out a scripted life written and directed by the man above".

TeamJesus is an evangelical organisation from the US.

Piutau also has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.

Other foreign players on the Ulster side to make their home here in recent years include South African stars Ruan Pienaar and Robbie Diack.

It is thought the latest addition to Ulster's ranks of overseas players will begin his career with Ulster at the start of 2016.

The 23-year-old Auckland man attended Wesley College in New Zealand, renowned for producing top flight rugby players, including the legendary Jonah Lomu, who destroyed opposition teams almost single-handedly.

The college's website describes him as "a world-class performer" and a "try-scoring machine" as well as "one of the most elusive players in New Zealand rugby".

"The fleet-footed winger is dangerous on attack, solid under the ball and confident on defence," a profile of the player says.

Rugby fans have reacted positively to the news of Ulster's plans to sign Piutau, telling this newspaper he would be welcomed with open arms at Kingspan.

Gary Farell from Belfast said: "Exciting. Just in time for the season ticket renewals too."

Tim McCullagh from Bangor said: "Great signing, but means one less place for a homegrown player."

Abdullah Mahmood tweeted: "Who saw that coming? Sure this isn't an early April Fools from our Antipodean brethren? Great signing if not."

Another fan told Piutau: "This is funny. They have an April Fools joke saying that you're going to Ulster Rugby next year."

The move is expected to be officially revealed by Ulster later today.

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