Ulster lose All Black Charles Piutau to Pat Lam's Bristol
Reigning PRO12 Players' Player of the Year Charles Piutau is set to leave Ulster for Pat Lam's Bristol.
Piutau will join Lam at Ashton Gate Stadium next season after his two-year contract with Ulster expires. The All Black scored nine tries in 23 appearances in his first season at the Kingspan and follows Lam and his older brother Siale to the Championship side.
Commenting on the acquisition of Piutau, Lam said that Piutau was a player of immense quality and that he possesses the sort of world class characteristics that he wants to see in every player at the club.
“One of our key focuses is about the journey that Bristol Rugby are on – Charles’ signing for the 2018/19 season demonstrates that we have a long-term plan and structure in place,” Lam told the club's official website.
“We’re thrilled to have an individual of his immense quality and experience to add to our ranks. As somebody who has worked with Charles previously, I know what an influential player he is on and off the field.
“It’s not just his ability to play fullback, wing and centre, all at international standard, but it’s also his willingness to help and mentor others which will be a big boost for our young English players coming through.
“Charles is excited by our vision of ‘inspiring our community through rugby success.’ His determination and attitude to improve as a player and person are exactly the sort of world class characteristics we want in every player who pulls on the Bristol jersey.”
Despite finishing bottom of the Aviva Premiership last season, and only winning three of 22 league games, Piutau says he believes in the Bristol's vision and that he thinks that the club can be a force in both English and European rugby.
“To join Bristol Rugby and be part of the vision that Pat Lam and his coaching team has is very appealing to me. I understand the challenges that lie ahead for the club but firmly believe Bristol can once again become a major force in English and European rugby.
“I’m looking forward to playing alongside my brother Siale and being part of a club that can inspire the community and receives massive backing from the city’s supporters.
“By sorting my playing future early, I can focus entirely on Ulster this season and what the team can achieve in the Pro14 and Europe.”
With Bristol's recent additions of internationals Ian Madigan, Steven Luatua, Luke Morahan and now Piutau, Ulster Operations Director Bryn Cunningham highlighted that there were also significant financial factors in the province not being able to retain Piutau beyond next season.
"Charles is a fantastic player who delivered many match-winning contributions in his first season with us, and I'm sure he'll produce plenty more over the next ten months," Cunningham told ulsterrugby.com.
"I know that he remains committed to helping us reach our potential in both the Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup.
"It is disappointing that Charles is moving on, but salaries for the world's best players are rising year-on-year and are ultimately determined by what one club is prepared to pay for an individual.
"We have a strong commercial programme in place and that has allowed us to attract top overseas players and to retain our best home-grown talent in what is a hugely competitive market. Our strategy is to continue to recruit world class players in the seasons ahead."