Rugby: Wasps abuzz about brothers

Boys who wanted to be Lomu are at the heart of Wasps’ revival and tell Mick Cleary their tough childhood drives them.
Charles (left) and Siale Piutau are instrumental in the revival at Wasps. Photo / Getty Images
Charles (left) and Siale Piutau are instrumental in the revival at Wasps. Photo / Getty Images

It is no wonder that the Piutau brothers, fullback Charles and centre Siale, manage to find space against the tightest of midfield defences.

They had to fight their corner in a family of 10 immigrant Tongan kids in the working-class Auckland suburb of Mangere, playing "backyard footie".

They had their eyes set on emulating another son of Mangere, Jonah Lomu, and playing professionally. And yet, for all their drive and desire (including a spell a decade ago for Siale, the elder brother at 30, in Huddersfield turning out for the YMCA as well as, in his own words, "living out of the pub"), it was not until this February that the Piutaus first lined up alongside each other in a proper match.

Wasps thumped Premiership title-holders Saracens 64-23 at Allianz Park that day, albeit with both teams deprived of their test players.

And if it proves an auspicious omen then it will be Wasps supporters heading off into this evening toasting the influence of the pair on their side's fortunes in the European Champions Cup semifinal at the Madejski Stadium.

There is no doubt the imported influence of the brothers and former Australian flanker George Smith has been instrumental in Wasps' resurgence. The upturn in the form of two England contenders - centre Elliot Daly and wing Christian Wade - is no coincidence. All three overseas players will be elsewhere next season because of various contractual deals and there is a real sense that this is Wasps' chance to seize the moment.

Certainly the Piutaus have lived by that creed, imbued with a work ethic and self-reliance that comes from father Manako and mother Melenaite, who, like so many other Pacific Islanders, emigrated in search of opportunity.

"There wasn't much work and dad held down two jobs, driving taxis, while mum worked in a care home, in order to provide for us," said Siale. "They pushed us to do well at school, got the money together to help us get to Wesley [College in Auckland, where Jonah Lomu attended]. "They had heard of Jonah, and that big stage he was on, and even though Wesley was private at the time that was the career path they wanted us to take."

The Piutau parents never had time to watch their boys play, working for the family at all times.

That immigrant experience is not uncommon in New Zealand although it is a far cry from the conventional upbringing of rugby players in the Northern Hemisphere.

Charles, who so narrowly missed out on selection for the 2015 All Blacks squad, had to fund himself after school before getting his first professional contract in Auckland.

There are only five professional franchises in New Zealand and places are contested keenly.

"I did a few jobs after school, in a pie factory, loved carpentry, too, and it made for good learning, made me appreciate what I do for a living now and that has made me focused for rugby," said Charles, 24, who takes up a prearranged contract with Ulster next season. "The kids coming straight out of school into rugby don't experience that. I wouldn't have had it any other way. That life experience taught me how hard nine to five is for most people."

The message took a bit longer for Siale to appreciate. He packed his bags 11 years ago and pitched up in Huddersfield. "It was pretty much a gap year for a few of us and we lived right next door to a pub, living out of it, really," he recalled with a chuckle. "We stayed with a guy who owned his own transportation company and he was pushing us every day to do something with our lives because we were, well, I guess, not making much of our rugby careers.

"We worked part-time, got a few quid, worked as factory hands. I have never regretted that time. It was one of the things that pushed me to take rugby more seriously."

Siale became a bulwark for Counties Manukau from 2006, lining up alongside former All Black captain Tana Umaga before Super Rugby stints with the Chiefs and Highlanders. A fierce presence in midfield, he was an ever-present for Tonga in this season's World Cup, winning the most recent of his 24 caps. He has played for Yamaha Jubilo in Japan since 2012 and was thinking only of coming to London to visit his brother during the off-season when a midfield injury crisis prompted Wasps director of rugby, Dai Young, to offer him a short-term contract.

"It came out of the blue and it has been a blessing to play with Charles and the Wasps," said Siale, who will return to Japan. "For me, rugby is a brotherhood and to actually play with my blood brother has been unreal."

Charles, versatile enough to perform at the top level at wing and centre as well as fullback, was considered the unluckiest of those who missed the cut for New Zealand's World Cup squad. "Man, I still have the scar, put a bandage over it, but it has given me the motivation to go back one day and have another crack," he said.

He has pace, footwork, nerve and vision, as he showed when touching down for the last-gasp try against Exeter in the quarter-finals that paved the way for the touchline conversion that clinched Wasps' first semifinal appearance in nine years.

The brothers live near each other near Ealing Broadway, a long way from Mangere, fired by dreams that took shape back then and ready to perform on the big stage together.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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