Back on the Gravy Train

News is breaking this morning that Charles Piutau has signed a 2 year contract with Ulster in a deal worth £500k a year. This is a sensational signing for a number of reasons:

  • Quality – Piutau is a full-back or wing who is in the BNZ extended squad, and is in a dogfight with the likes of Israel Dagg and Cory Jane for the last utility backs slots in the RWC15 squad. He is 23 and has 14 BNZ caps – at his age, Dagg had 11 caps, Julian Savea 20 and Ben Smith just one – this is a serious player who the NZRFU were anxious to keep in the domestic system. In recent years, the provinces have signed SH journeymen (Nick Williams, Andrew Smith, Jimmy Gopperth) or second tier talents that the SH unions were happy to let leave (Kane Douglas, CJ Stander, Franco van der Merwe) – this is the biggest signing in many years
  • It shows that in spite of the rhetoric, the provinces can compete – Piutau is the kind of player the Irish provinces were supposed to be unable to attract. Perhaps the strength of the pound is a factor (Jackman referred to this as an issue for the French on yesterday’s Go Easy Gazette), but the English clubs use pounds too. Whether the signing is funded by Ulster or the Union, it’s a serious statement of intent in the ERC era
  • NIQ rules – if the signing was funded by the Union, one should be asking why Piutau is going to Ulster. Piutau is a fullback who can play wing, and occasionally centre. As an NIQ, he is a direct replacement for fellow NIQ Louis Ludik at fullback for Ulster, but that’s ignoring the plethora of flexible young Irish talent that Ulster have in the backline – Bowe, Trimble, Gilroy, Allen, Olding, Cave, Payne, Marshall, McCloskey – there is hardly a gaping need at fullback in Ulster. Or in any province for the matter – Kearney and Jones are the Irish fullbacks and Mils Muliaina has just the century of BNZ caps
  • Backrow – there is however a gaping need in the Ulster backrow right now. At present, serious options, international class or close to it, consist of Robbie Diack and Chris Henry, with Iain Henderson and Franco van der Merwe as locks who can fill in at blindside. Then you have Roger Wilson, Williams, (no direspect to) Clive Ross, Charlie Butterworth and Mike McComish. Half a million quid a year will surely buy you two top quality backrow forwards, even in the current market.

In summary then, a fantastic player, a big statement, but a bit of a luxury signing .. unless there is more to come.

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31 Comments

  1. rugbygareth

     /  March 31, 2015

    Completely agree, cannot see the need for a signing of his caliber in the backs when we are crying out for at least one world class BR!

  2. ruckinhell

     /  March 31, 2015

    Confirmed by Ulster apparently http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/pro12/ulster-confirm-all-black-charles-piutau-has-signed-two-year-deal-1.2159869

    There has to be some interprovincial transfer element to this, I can’t see the IRFU accepting the signing of such a quality player at such a price if it means that a potential Irish international such as Gilroy/Marshall/McCloskey had to ride pine.

    Class player but I can’t help but think that two good quality backrowers would have been much wiser use of the money. No point having an amazing talent at fullback if you can’t get him any quality ball.

    • On an unrelated note, absolutely gutted for Olding, he’s had an awful time with injuries over the last couple of seasons, and was hoping he’d push for the WC squad.

      • ruckinhell

         /  March 31, 2015

        Agreed. Poor guy just can’t get an even break on the injury front (there’s a pun there but I’m too gutted for Olding to go for it.)

        Serious talent, concerning injury profile.

  3. rugbygareth

     /  March 31, 2015

    I have been chatting to a couple of people this morning and if it is true then Ulster will be over their NIQ players so I have no idea where he is going to fit in! I have been constantly refreshing the Ulster rugby website as they have a tendency to release things like this around midday

    • connachtexile

       /  March 31, 2015

      There is strong rumours that Nick Williams is off to Harlequins next season so he would one gone. You guys aren’t going to sign Ludik again so that’s two down. With Willliams on the way out you’d assume that Ulster would have someone ready to replace him otherwise I couldn’t see them letting him go.

      • rugbygareth

         /  March 31, 2015

        Yes, this was something talked about this morning as the news was breaking, although at that time I only mentioned the Williams thing as I had a personal opinion that the Ulster rugby top boys where maybe getting a little annoyed with his lack of discipline in recent weeks. It does seem to also point the way for Ludik heading else where.

  4. D6W

     /  March 31, 2015

    If Ulster need back rows, it would be ridiculous to go abroad for a NIQ. There is a surplus of top quality BR in Leinster, and Munster are pretty well covered too, especially when some come back from injury.

  5. Pretty crazy signing, but not sure how I feel about it, pretty much for the reasons above, but don’t forget that Willie Falloon is coming home next season! From what I’ve seen he’s seemed to have had a bit of a revival at Connacht, but as you say, he’s no Clive Ross.

    • rugbygareth

       /  March 31, 2015

      My personal opinion at present is that this is not a good signing for Ulster, not because the player is sub-standard but we could have spent the money better elsewhere on the park! No offence to Willie Faloon but he is not of the standard we need. Yes he has played well for Connacht but there is a reason we got rid of him in the first place and I do not believe he has improved that much to come back in and become our next “Stephen Ferris”

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 31, 2015

        You can never have enough quality players

  6. ORiordan

     /  March 31, 2015

    So Ulster’s current NIQs are Bug Nuck Wulliams, Pienaar, Van Der Merwe and Ludik with Herbst as the project. Piutau is an upgrade on Ludik and I’m assuming that Bug Nuck will be replaced by another NIQ back row (Nuck is now a liability rather than an asset as demonstrated by his citing after the Cardiff game)

    Yes, there is a case for 2 NIQ back rowers but maybe the IRFU blocked this as it would make Ulster too dependent on NIQs in this area?

    A couple of other points – I’m always sceptical about wage figures quoted by newspapers as you don’t know what it covers – base salary or overall package including things like win bonuses, value of car provided by sponsor and the like.

    Also, Ulster are quite well positioned, financially. They have a spanking new stadium paid for courtesy of Her Majesty’s Government, they don’t pay rent like Leinster and they don’t pay a mortgage like Munster (although this has been reduced…) If you exclude “event” games played in large stadiums and just look at the normal home ground, I think Ulster are there or there abouts being the second best supported team in the UK & Ireland after Leicester, so the core support is there as well. (and maybe Casement Park will be used for event games in the future 😉 )

    • rugbygareth

       /  March 31, 2015

      Also, I believe that the rules changing next season and the provinces will only be allowed four NIQ’s so that makes Ulster already one over before signing Piutau? I am eagerly awaiting the official press release from Ulster on this.

      • ORiordan

         /  March 31, 2015

        Ah, but they aren’t rules, they are guidelines, or else the IRFU could get into all sorts of bother.

        Ulster aren’t over, as prior to Piutau, the only NIQ contracted for 2016/2017 was Pienaar. Nuck, Ludik and Van de Merwe are contracted until the end of 2015/2016. There have been rumours that Nuck may be bought out of his contract (by Quins?) and I hope this is true.

    • Xyz

       /  March 31, 2015

      “Yes, there is a case for 2 NIQ back rowers but maybe the IRFU blocked this as it would make Ulster too dependent on NIQs in this area?”

      If you need 2 back rowers now I can’t see how filling them with NIQs puts you in a worse position.

      • ORiordan

         /  March 31, 2015

        If the IRFU blocked 2 NIQ back rows, it is essentially telling Ulster that it is up to them to solve their weakness here by finding or developing IQ players and Ulster just can’t flash the cash.

        In recent years, Ulster really don’t have a good record of developing home grown forwards. In the Cardiff game last weekend, 7 out of 8 in the starting Ulster pack were from outside Ulster.

  7. PCM1970

     /  March 31, 2015

    Apparently Piutau not due to pitch up at the Kingspan until the 2016/2017 season at which stage all the NIQ contracts currently in place bar Pienaars will be gone. If this is the case, it’s a seriously good bit of business: the guyis a quality operator

  8. zdm

     /  March 31, 2015

    Do Ulster really need to up their game at back row?
    Signing an international back row improves their back row but signing an international outside back improves Ulster.

    • rugbygareth

       /  March 31, 2015

      How does said international back get the ball if no quality back row is signed to get said ball?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 31, 2015

        Australia have manged well enough for the past 20 odd years of having varying degrees of powder puff forwards, if your backs are good enough…

        • Stevo

           /  April 1, 2015

          Australia may have had varying degrees of powder puff front-rows, but they’ve always had excellent back-rows – Phil Waugh, George Smith, Steve Kefu, David Pocock, Michael Hooper etc.

  9. Probably not much point posting this, as it’s just agreeing with everyone, but: Piutau’s a great player, presumably he’ll replace Ludik, LL’s done OK but that’s a serious upgrade – however, the need is elsewhere.

    Number eight is where we have the greatest gap at the minute. If Williams is leaving that frees us up – and if we have the cash to get someone like Piutau, let’s see Vermeulen or Kieran Read in Belfast…

    One thing: Hendo can do more than “fill in” at blindside. His future, certainly internationally, is in the second row, but Ulster’s best XV at the minute would have him at six.

    • Stephen

       /  March 31, 2015

      Henderson is more naturally a blindside, than a lock.

  10. Stephen

     /  March 31, 2015

    Ulster’s current back-row options are

    6 – Diack, Henderson, Wilson*
    7 – Henry, I can’t believe it’s Clive Ross*, Sean Reidy*, Faloon
    8 – Williams*, Wilson*

    *= not good enough/getting too old

    Realistically we need an 8, ideally who can also play 6, or a bona fide 6 on top of said 8.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  March 31, 2015

      SA are bringing in quotas as Currie/Vodacom Cup in addition to the academy quotas they already have in place. Now is a good a time as any to buy some disaffected Afrikaner beeffy backrower, at the very least you get some raw power/boshing who may or may not grow into a Juan Smith, easily superior to poor old Clive Ross.

    • ORiordan

       /  March 31, 2015

      How could you possibly forget Charlie Butterworth? Then there was Tim Boys but he injured himself before even playing a game.

      I don’t want to belittle the guys that Ulster have plucked from the AIL and NPC as I’m sure they have given their all, but Ulster seems to have been under the impression that lots of back rowers from these leagues will maybe add up to something better but life doesn’t work like that. Maybe they were gambling that one would be a diamond in the rough who had been overlooked by pro rugby.

    • mohill11

       /  March 31, 2015

      What about Mike McComish? Solid pro.

  11. What about a centre to leinster and a tighthead or backrower to ulster? Maybe not so realistic given the bad news about olding….

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