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I'll strive to end Ulster stay on a high, vows Piutau


By Jonathan Bradley

If money usually talks, then on this occasion it's more shouting from the rooftops. When Ulster paid the guts of £1m over two seasons for the services of All Black Charles Piutau in the spring of 2015 - the player would arrive a season later after a star turn at Wasps - few could have imagined the Auckland-born winger would come close to doubling his money when the deal expired.

With the Belfast Telegraph understanding that Piutau's two-year contract at Championship side Bristol is worth £900,000 a year from the 2018-19 campaign, it is believed he will become the second highest paid rugby player in the world, lagging only behind his compatriot and All Black legend Dan Carter.

Despite the financial reward, the former Auckland Blues man has said that it was in fact the familiar faces at Ashton Gate that swayed his decision.

One of Piutau's nine siblings, brother Siale, is already at Bristol, while his old Blues coach Pat Lam, who made the signing a priority months ago, and team-mate Steven Luatua have joined ahead of the coming season.

"It was a very hard decision as I have really enjoyed my first year at Ulster," he said in a statement.

"The welcome that I had and the way I have been looked after has been the best of any club I've been at. The management and players really made me feel part of the family and that will make it extremely hard to leave when the time comes.

"The biggest consideration in my decision to join Bristol is the opportunity to play with my brother Siale, as he approaches the end of his career. It will also be great to work with Steven Luatua and Pat Lam again."

Piutau was a fans' favourite at Kingspan last season, even if some brilliant showings couldn't help the team into the Guinness PRO12 play-offs.

"I love Ulster and I've enjoyed learning about the history and culture of the province," he added.

"I must say a big thank you to the Ulster fans, who genuinely love the club and show unwavering support to the players. It is the first time that I have experienced supporters who are so passionate and loyal. The atmosphere on match nights at Kingspan Stadium is top of the list of things I'll miss.

"Last season wasn't a good reflection on us as players but I think we will grow in the season ahead and be much more competitive.

"We have a new coaching team in place and they have brought fresh ideas and skills, which the boys have responded well to. It is sad that this will be my last season in Belfast but I will be 100% focused on ensuring that I finish my Ulster career on a high."

Such financial figures will no doubt cause some to once again lament the growing power of money in the game, but this deal seems like something of an outlier, especially for Ulster.

Bristol, who have spent big on Lam, Luatua and Irish international Ian Madigan in an effort to boost their hopes of returning to the Premiership at the first attempt, are a financial power that few can match.

With increased TV revenue on the horizon for the province, both through the inclusion of two South African sides into the league and a new deal to come after this season, the decision makers in Belfast were believed to be ready to sanction a raise for their biggest earner, but the final figure on offer is a staggering amount and one it would have made little sense for Ulster to match.

More than double what anyone else currently earns at Kingspan to retain Piutau's services would have produced a lop-sided wage structure with such a sum likely better spent on multiple new players.

The proof will come in the months ahead though, especially after Operations Manager Bryn Cunningham said yesterday that the province will now continue their efforts to "recruit world-class talents" to Belfast.

Having lost one yesterday, fans will expect the side to replace in kind.


Name: Charles Piutau

Age: 25

Born: Auckland

Position: Wing

Joined Ulster: Summer 2016

Appearances (Tries): 23 (9)

International honours: 17 All Black caps

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