Ulster's big marquee signing Charles Piutau could be coming to Belfast without playing a game of rugby in nearly a year. New Zealand CEO Steve Tew has rejected Piutau's request to continue playing with the Blues in 2016 despite his contract running out at the end of this year.
Piutau has signed a three year deal with Ulster, but his contract will not begin until the start of the 2016/17 season. This is because Ulster will already have the maximum allowed non-Irish eligible players in their squad for next season.
This means that Piutau doesn't have somewhere to play rugby from the end of his contract with the Blues and New Zealand, and the start of his Ulster contract. It was hoped that he would be allowed to play 11 games for the Blues before he moved to Belfast, but the NZRU have ruled that out citing their need to "protect the integrity" of the Super Rugby competition:
When players are coming back or departing, we have a policy framework we use which largely rewards players who have shown some loyalty and longevity to New Zealand rugby.
Charles is committed to another future for the next three years, he's not playing in New Zealand for a very long period of time and we're better to get on without him and let some other player have that jersey and develop themselves in this country and not set a precedent we wouldn't want to live with, frankly, because in our view we've got to look after the integrity of our competition and our policy of rewarding players who stay and play in New Zealand.
While Piutau is still eligible for Rugby World Cup selection, if he isn't selecting he can still play for his provincial team Auckland in the ITM Cup which concludes at the end of October.
From there Piutau will not have any concrete rugby until his move to Belfast.
Options for the Kiwi back include a season in Japan, which will run from November until between February and April, or to sign a medical joker contract with a European side.
It's unlikely but not completely ruled out that the IRFU will allow Piutau to join Ulster early.