Piutau confirms overseas contract
Wellington - Blues utility back Charles Piutau has confirmed he has signed a two-year contract with Irish side Ulster and will leave New Zealand in July 2016, though his Rugby World Cup hopes could now be in jeopardy.
Local media had reported earlier this week that Piutau had signed a two-year contract with the Belfast-based side, though neither New Zealand Rugby (NZR) nor the Blues had confirmed they had lost his services before the player did so on Thursday.
"I can confirm that I've signed a two-year deal with the Irish club Ulster," Piutau told reporters at the Blues' training on Thursday. "This decision has been extremely hard, a tough decision to make.
"I totally can understand I guess the shock that comes with it, but like I said I feel this is the right decision for me and my life moving forward and I'm happy with that."
Piutau's decision had caused some surprise in New Zealand rugby circles, with the 23-year-old expected to become a permanent fixture in the national side after an exodus of senior players following the World Cup later this year.
While essentially a fullback, the 14-cap Piutau can also play wing and has appeared at centre for the Blues this season.
His decision surprised All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who now must decide if Piutau's decision will rule him out of World Cup selection with several players jockeying for what is expected to be four outside back positions in the 31-man squad.
Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Julian Savea and Israel Dagg are also contending for the positions for the tournament later this year, with all having committed their future to New Zealand rugby beyond this season.
"I'm extremely disappointed he's going," Hansen told Fairfax Media on Thursday. "He was a person we were hoping would grow over time after this World Cup into one of our senior players.
"We've put a lot of time and effort into him so we're disappointed he's decided to go down that route."
Piutau said he had not spoken to Hansen but had told assistant coach Ian Foster that he had accepted the contract.
"I think you'd all know," he said when asked as to what Foster's reaction had been. "It's fair for coaches and NZR to have their feelings.
"For me all I can be is comfortable in my decision and put my best foot forward to hopefully be in that (All Blacks) team come the end of the year."