Piutau the new breed of fullback

Last updated 05:00 25/10/2012
Charles Piutau
FAIRFAX
Top form: Charles Piutau was absolutely explosive in Auckland's 33-22 national championship semi-final win over Wellington.

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OPINION: I've been surprised talking to close followers of New Zealand rugby these past few days that Charles Piutau is evidently not a certainty for the All Blacks' end-of-year northern hemisphere tour.

Piutau, who turns 21 next week, was absolutely explosive in Auckland's 33-22 national championship semi-final win over Wellington on Saturday.

His ball handling, pace and ability to break the line made him a constant threat and he was the most important factor in Auckland repeatedly breaching the Wellington defence.

What more he needs to do to be pulled into the All Blacks is beyond me.

Without wanting to go over the top about it, it's possible Piutau could be one of those rare players who revolutionises his position.

We've had fast fullbacks before, of course, including Allan Hewson, John Gallagher and Christian Cullen. But we've never had anyone as big as Piutau who is so dynamic.

At 1.86m tall (6ft 1in) and 96kg (just over 15st), he is built along the lines of forwards of former times - great flanker Graham Mourie was shorter and lighter.

Piutau dipped his toe in international rugby in 2010, playing for Tonga Under-20.

However, he really made his name as the top try-scorer for New Zealand Under-20 when they won their World Cup in Italy last year.

He's also had two seasons in Gordon Tietjens' national sevens squad.

Tietjens is a hard taskmaster. His training sessions are famously gruelling and he knows about speed, flair and ball skills.

If Piutau gets a tick from the canny Tietjens, I take notice.

Piutau has been playing for Auckland since 2010, his first year out of college.

This year the Auckland youngster has played consistently well.

He had a couple of outings for the Blues and looked right at home at Super level.

And throughout the ITM Cup he has been superb, a constant threat.

I imagine the Piutau factor occupies a considerable amount of time at opposition team talks the night before a big game.

The fullback position has evolved, just as wing has.

Wings were once generally small or slight blokes with sizzling speed. Then, progressively, Bryan Williams, John Kirwan and Jonah Lomu changed that on the All Black scene.

So it is with fullback.

After World War II, there were a couple of fantastic All Black fullbacks, Bob Scott and Don Clarke, one a freakishly balanced and innovative player, the other a place-kicker ahead of his time.

But after them, the All Blacks relied first on solid fullbacks without great pace (Mick Williment, Fergie McCormick and Joe Karam), then slightly-built men with speed (Hewson and Gallagher).

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Christian Cullen took the position forward, and Mils Muliaina played 100 tests reliably and solidly. Piutau is another matter altogether.

He's been devastating at fullback for Auckland, but it shouldn't be forgotten what a match-winner he is at wing, too.

It is obvious the All Black selectors will take Israel Dagg north as their No 1 fullback, and the temptation for them will be to point to the likes of established players Ben Smith and Cory Jane as backs well capable of doubling as wing-fullbacks.

But now, surely, is the time to be bold and give Piutau his chance. What's there to lose?

 

On the charge: Charles Piutau breaks the line against Wellington. Photo: KEVIN STENT

- Hutt News

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