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Class act Charles Piutau has the power to sting for Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster may not have played last weekend but former Ireland out-half Tony Ward saw plenty from Charles Piutau against Leinster to suggest that the Belfast-bound All Black is a world star in the making.

The 24-year-old arrives at Kingspan Stadium next summer in a move announced some seven months ago but is currently turning out for Wasps after signing a short-term deal with the Premiership outfit back in September.

For Ward, the dangerous full-back will be worth the wait.

"When you look at what Charles Piutau did to Leinster for Wasps (in the 33-6 victory), the biggest winner this weekend from an Irish perspective without any doubt was Ulster," said the man who won 20 Irish caps between 1978 and 1987.

"I was doing the commentary for the game and right the way through he was just a class act.

"He's going to be some addition when he does arrive.

"It's a pity I suppose that there is that wait but you've got to be looking forward to seeing what he can do coming into that backline."

While Ulster fans will no doubt wish differently after seeing him in action at the weekend, Piutau will not be a factor on Friday evening when Ulster face high-flying Saracens at Kingspan Stadium but it is two home-grown products who Ward will be keeping a close eye on during the crucial Champions Cup contest.

Paddy Jackson's head-to-head with Saracens' England fly-half Owen Farrell will be key to the clash while the rare Dublin-born Munster legend has also earmarked Craig Gilroy as a central figure.

"I think Paddy is a fabulous link player," he said. "He's a beautiful distributor of the ball. This might sound ridiculous but I think he hasn't been helped by playing with such a great scrum-half in Ruan Pienaar.

"Pienaar dominates the half-back area so much that you almost see the out-half become the secondary figure.

"Recently though Jackson's getting better at saying 'I'm in control, I'm the boss out here' but it's something I'd like to see him do even more.

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"He has all the bits and pieces, he just has to assert himself more in terms of on-field presence. The match-up on Friday will be so important, it'll be great to see. I'm a huge fan of Craig Gilroy as well, huge fan. I'd love to see him get his hands on the ball as much as possible. He's relatively small, but he makes things happen. I love his skillset and he's the type of player that we have to make room for in the Irish game.

"They maybe aren't in fashion over here but give me the Craig Gilroys, the Simon Zebos, the Keith Earls, that X-factor that we just want to see with the ball in their hands."

The big European nights are one area of the game that Ward and his generation never experienced and he admits that, despite a glittering career re-told in his new autobiography 'Twelve Feet Tall', they are something he envies of the modern-day pro.

He added: "It's a competition I would have loved to be a part of, especially from a Munster perspective.

"I don't begrudge any player nowadays the chance that they have to make a more than decent living out of the sport.

"I think I speak for most players of my time, we all had God-given ability, but back then we were like hurlers or Gaelic footballers would be now, fitting in training around our work.

"I would have loved the chance to maximise my potential as a rugby player."

Such musings on the changing nature of the game, as well as his own career highlights, are just one aspect of an autobiography that has a much more human element at its core.

Recalling what he describes as his greatest battle, the overcoming of prostate cancer, the 61-year-old is searingly honest and admits that a new-found perspective garnered from the fight inspired him to tell his tale.

"With going through the prostate scare, well more than a scare I suppose, it was just a period of my life when I began to reassess things," he said.

"Having been prompted by a few people, authors and publishers, I found myself thinking it would be a time to do something a bit more rounded.

"What the book isn't, it's not a whinge at the IRFU or anything like that. It's a journey from when I started playing at St Mary's way back when to now and trying to get a perspective on that and what's happened.

"I think there's this image of rugby players being macho and I wanted to show the other side of that.

"When something happens to you like that, it's the human aspect you want to get across and I guess in that way it appeals to a wider audience."

'Twelve Feet Tall' the new autobiography by Tony Ward is out on Thursday

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