Dazzling Piutau merits callup for All Blacks' northern tour
OPINION: I've been surprised in talking to close followers of New Zealand rugby these past few days to learn Charles Piutau is evidently not a certainty for the All Blacks' end-of-year northern hemisphere tour.
Piutau, who turns 21 next week, was explosive in Auckland's 33-22 national provincial championship top-tier semifinal 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 is 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 and 96 kilograms, 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's under-20 team.
However, he really made his name as the top try-scorer for the New Zealand under-20 team when they won their World Cup in Italy last year.
Piutau has also had two seasons in Gordon Tietjens' national sevens squad.
Tietjens is a hard taskmaster and 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. This year he has played consistently well.
He had a couple of outings for the Blues and looked at home at Super level.
And throughout the ITM Cup he has been superb, a constant threat. I imagine the Piutau factor occupies considerable time at opposition team talks the night before a big game.
The fullback position has evolved, just as the wings have.
After World War II, there were a couple of fantastic All Blacks 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).
Cullen took the position forward, and Mils Muliaina played 100 tests reliably and solidly.
Piutau is another matter altogether.
He has been devastating at fullback for Auckland but it shouldn't be forgotten what a match-winner he is at wing too.
The All Blacks selectors will take Israel Dagg north as their No 1 fullback, and the temptation for them will be to point to the likes of Ben Smith and Cory Jane as capable of doubling as wing- fullbacks.
But now, surely, is the time to be bold and give Piutau his chance. What is there to lose?
Joseph Romanos is a Wellington sports writer and broadcaster.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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