‘It’s no surprise to me that Ireland are the number one side’

Published date16 September 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
Recognising Piutau’s ability doesn’t require any rugby knowledge, the acceleration, speed, footwork, strength, the athletic prowess and sleight of hand of a jongleur are prominent most match days, qualities that made him the world’s highest paid player with a yearly salary that kicked around the £1 million mark during his five seasons at the Bristol Bears

The youngest of a family of 10 children born to Tongan parents in Auckland, his first break came in getting a place at Wesley College, Pukekohe, following in the footsteps of his rugby idol, Jonah Lomu. Piutau explained: “Every kid saw how big Jonah Lomu was at the school, his jersey in the diningroom, the photos of what he’d done, his athletics achievements on the honours board. It gave us the hope of professional rugby.” ‘Massive influence’

In the 1989 school athletics championships, the winner of the 100m, 100m hurdles, 200m, 400m, discus, shot putt, javelin, long jump, high jump and triple jump was one J Lomu (aged 14). Piutau contented himself with emulating his hero by wearing the iconic number 11 jersey. “He [Lomu] was a massive influence.

“I met him a couple of times. He kind of knew who I was because of playing there [Wesley]. The thought of him recognising you or shaking your hand [was a thrill].”

An older brother, Siale, who went on to play professional and international rugby – he captained Tonga – as a centre, would have the biggest influence on his sibling, six years younger, by encouraging him to work hard and take nothing for granted with his talent. Piutau admitted that he occasionally got distracted.

Joining the Blues, it was hardly surprising that a wide-eyed Piutau marvelled at the feats first-hand of Joe Rokocoko and Rupeni Caucaunibuca but another idol was less obvious. “Growing up in New Zealand, Michael Jones [was a hero]. I was a bit too young to watch him on TV [live] but the things he stood for, how he played the game, his personality, his beliefs [inspired me].”

Faith, family and footie are three of four pillars on which he built his life, the last of which has prompted him to compile an extensive property portfolio in several countries including New Zealand, Australia and the UK. He explained: “Before rugby I wanted to be a builder, a carpenter, so I had all that set up but then rugby kicked off.

“Now I am thinking that my body is going to be a bit too sore when rugby is finished so maybe some project management. I have always loved things about property and houses.” He made...

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