Exciting All Black Charles Piutau is poised to announce his departure to Irish team Ulster on a two-year deal.
It appears the 23-year-old Blues Super Rugby fullback has been snatched from the under the nose of New Zealand Rugby, with negotiations to keep him in the country originally set to have concluded next week.
Instead, Piutau is believed to have agreed to a deal which will begin in July 2016, leaving open the possibility of playing for the All Blacks at this year’s World Cup and another Super Rugby campaign with the Blues next year.
It is a major blow for New Zealand Rugby, which is accustomed to losing players to lucrative European and Japanese contracts.
Those are usually players who are fringe-Test quality or are All Blacks nearing the end of their careers.
The versatile Piutau is among the most dangerous runners in the New Zealand game, having scored four tries in 14 Tests and only been denied more caps by the depth available in the three-quarters.
Most of his Test appearances have been on the wing, although All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has said Piutau is a fine prospect at fullback and had the ability to play centre.
The Blues this week announced the retention of captain Jerome Kaino and it is believed another All Blacks loose forward, Steven Luatua, will sign next week to stay with the struggling Super Rugby outfit.
Piutau will join two other former Blues players at Ulster – centre Jared Payne and No.8 Nick Williams.