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08th May 2017

Ulster broke the bank to bring in Charles Piutau and here’s proof it has paid off

Some debut season

Niall McIntyre

Worth every penny.

Ulster splashed out to secure the services of New Zealander Charles Piutau at the beginning of the season and it has proved to been a shrewd move as the 25-year-old’s breath-taking displays have culminated in him receiving the backing of his peers to win the Players’ Player of the Season award at the Pro12 awards night last night.

The flying fullback lived up to his price tag, which is believed to have been in the region of a €700,000 per annum two-year contract.

Ulster capitalised on some Auckland Blues hesitancy to offer the former All Black a deal that he couldn’t refuse despite some New Zealand desperation to keep him at home. Piutau didn’t disappoint scoring six tries in 18 league appearances and delivering some swashbuckling attacking play in the Kingspan Stadium and further afield throughout the course of the year.

Piutau led the Pro 12 standings on defenders beaten (74) and offloads made (29), while also leading Ulster’s standings on clean breaks (35), carries (317) and metres gained (2067). Below is a sample of some of the extraordinary attacking play showcased by Piutau throughout the season.

The 6ft 1in, 103kg Aucklander is an outstanding attacking talent whose versatility allows him to play in any position along the backline. The fleet-footed Piutau who has made 16 appearances for his national side, after making his debut in 2013 also starred for Wasps last season receiving a nomination for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season.

Piutau’s All Black career has stalled as a result of his journey to the Northern Hemisphere with the New Zealand rugby policy of picking home-based players only for the national side still in operation.

The Ulster back who was ignored for selection for the 2015 World Cup by All-Blacks boss Steve Hansen still harbours hopes of making a return to the National team set up. “I’ll see how I feel at the end of my Ulster contract but the plan is to go back to New Zealand and have another crack at the All Blacks,” he said last year

Les Kiss will be desperate to hold onto the services of the New Zealander, however, who collected his award with a strapped finger after an injury picked up against Leinster on Saturday.

“Going forward, that’s another decision for him. Any club would love to have him and we’d love to have him for longer,” said Kiss.

The award rounded off a successful weekend for Piutau who was also voted the Bank of Ireland Ulster Rugby Player of the Year at the team’s own awards.

“To be honoured by your fellow players is unbelievable. My first season in Belfast, I think what I’ll remember is meeting my new team-mates and the team’s supporters.”

“But as players and coaches, we’ll take our learning from this season and hope to be better next season.”

Ulster, indeed will be hoping for a more successful season next year after they failed to progress from the pool stages of the Champions Cup and didn’t reach the semi-finals of the Pro12. Holding on to Piutau will be key to these hopes.

The Pro12 awards ceremony which took place at the Guinness Storehouse last night turned out to be a successful night for the Irish provinces. As well as having 11 players named on the Team of the year, the Irish provinces were winners of the Player and Young Player of the Season, Coach of the Season and Try of the Season awards.

Piutau’s Ulster team-mate Ruan Pienaar received the award for the Try of the Season courtesy of his effort against Glasgow while Leinster’s Joey Carbery collected the gong for the Young Player of the Season. Munster Coach Rassie Erasmus was named as the Coach of the Season.

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