Bristol have dealt Ulster a huge blow before the start of the Pro 14 season, with the announcement that Charles Piutau will sign for the Championship club for the 2018/19 season.
Piutau who spent a year at Wasps in 2015 before moving to Ulster last season, was named the Pro12 Player Of The Season for 2017 but he has decided to jump ship, and has signed a two-year-deal with Bristol.
The utility back who can play full-back, wing or centre, has been capped 16-times by the All Blacks, and now will join his brother Siale Piutau who is already at the club.
Charles spoke about his delight in the decision to join Bristol 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.
Although Bristol were relegated from the English Premiership last season, they have invested heavily in their squad, bringing in no fewer than 19 new players that include, Irish international Ian Madigan, and former Leinster and Connacht hooker Jason Harris-Wright.
The loss of Piutau is a devastating surprise to Ulster as they have already lost Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, and against the wishes of the player, Ruan Pienaar was told his contract would not be renewed by the IRFU at the end of last season.
Not the ideal preparation for the province with the loss of two of their first choice backs and another next season, but Ulster's loss is Bristol's and Pat Lam's gain, as they look to bounce back immediately to the English Premiership after being relegated without a whimper in the 2016/17 season.