Charles Piutau is one of few to turn down the All Blacks in his prime
He is currently making his mark in Ulster, but made the move at the cost of his international career15:00 Friday 6 January 2017, 15:00 6 Jan 2017
Charles Piutau is one of the few All Blacks who have upped and left New Zealand before or during their prime to ply their trade overseas.
Many intenarionals head to Europe after successful careers but, while still being talented players, they are not at the same level they were at when they played for their country.
After the last World Cup, legends such as Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu headed north, but they are at the tail end of their playing careers.
In the last decade, Carl Hayman could be considered as perhaps one of the only guaranteed starters for New Zealand who chose to move on instead. Piutau is in that bracket.
He moved north having played 14 times for the All Blacks, winning all 14 matches and scoring five tries along the way.
Ulster's Charles Piutau scores a try. Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd
The New Zealand media have been lamenting the fact this week that the full-back was allowed leave, calling him "the king of the ones who got away."
Despite that lofty praise, and a series of standout performances for Les Kiss' side since he arrived, there doesn't seem to be the same level of praise for him in Ireland as there are lamentations on his departure in New Zealand.
Piutau headed to Wasps first before landing in Belfast, where his contribution has been likened to that of CJ Stander at Munster - a player who has been rightly highlighted as a key part of their return to form in recent months.
Speaking to Newstalk.com, Belfast-based rugby writer Michael Sadlier spoke about just how big a role Piutau has played in his few short months at the Kingspan Stadium.
He's not as centrally involved as CJ and Ruan Pienaar at flanker or scrum-half but his impact has been has been very significant," said Sadlier. "He's brought a new dimension to Ulster's back three play, and his stats have been pretty impressive to be honest."
And the numbers do make for pleasant reading for Ulster fans: Piutau is top of the charts when it comes to defenders beaten (40) and most carries (147), while he's not far behind Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran near the summit of the metres gained chart, with 812 to his name this term. He also features on the most offloads chart with 15, just two behind leader Josh Matavesi.
"In that regards, he's doing what he said on the tin," Sadlier added. "He's going to create space for others and be a menace attacking from the back."
Ulster are currently in sixth place in the Guinness PRO12 Championship, having won seven of their eleven matches so far.
They are unlikely to qualify from their Champions Cup pool either, as they have only amassed nine points from their four games. That record is undoubtedly one of the reasons Pitutau's stellar numbers have gone somewhat under the radar.
However, Sadlier reckons that once the province start putting some wins together, the Kiwi will flourish.
"The problem is that he is not necessarily getting huge opportunities to do so in Ulster, not like say he did at Wasps before he came to Belfast.
"Perhaps a slight issue is that Ulster aren't having a particularly consistent season, and therefore we are not necessarily seeing the very best of him - yet."
Ulster's Charles Piutau is tackled by the Exeter Chiefs' Ian Whitten, Henry Slade and Dave Lewis
If his best is yet to come, then Ulster fans have something incredibly exciting to look forward to in the coming months.
The decision to travel to Europe has, more or less, meant that Piutau has given up on his international career at the age of just 25, but even if Irish fans haven't been reading many headlines about just how good he has been, his performances have not gone unnoticed back home. Given he signed a two-year deal, could he be headed back home to once again pull on that famous black jersey?
"He came here with full knowledge that that would probably be the end of his All Black career, unless he went back," Sadlier added.
"Now he hasn't ruled that out when he finishes up, but he has made a connection and is a firm favourite here. And there's no doubt that Ulster do need him.
"He seems to have settled in quite well. When he gets the ball, there is that air of excitement, that buzz that something is about to happen. You saw it last week in the RDS. I know Ulster were under the pump for most of the game, and though he wasn't flawless by any means, when he got the ball going forward, he could find space, pirouette through and create chances for others. And that's priceless."
How Ulster's season progresses from here remains to be seen, but Sadlier believes there's more to come from the former All Black.
"They haven't got the best out of him yet. I don't think there's any doubt about that. They have to improve collectively to be able to get the best out of him. He has already made a difference on the pitch because of what he can do with ball in hand."
Ulster travel to Wales to play the Scarlets this evening.
The very best bits delivered every weekSubscribe now