Charles Piutau wanted a low-key return to the Tongan village where his dad's people come from.

He didn't want a fuss - he was happy the news of his stay broke when he was leaving - but in the end the attention he got was welcome.

The visit to Falevai on the island of Vava'u during his short break at the start of the year provided the 23-year-old Blues and All Blacks outside back with a mix of emotions.

It was both refreshing and humbling, a good grounding at the start of what could be a huge year for him.


"They're big on rugby, it is on certain TV channels there," he said. "They are proud people - even seeing a Tongan in the All Blacks makes them happy. Meeting people in the streets, they would say 'it's good to see a Tongan there, represent us well'.

"It was refreshing, connecting back with my roots," he said of the trip with an uncle.

"I tried to lie low. I didn't want any media to find out, but they eventually did. It was cool meeting the locals and my extended family."

There was plenty of banter bubbling beneath the surface too, about Charles playing for New Zealand and 29-year-old big brother Siale, a centre, aligning himself with Tonga.

The pair could play against each other at the World Cup - the All Blacks and Tonga are in the same pool - "if we're lucky enough to both be there", Piutau said.

"I've never played with him - only in backyard footy. It will be interesting. I've only played against him in couple of sevens games and in ITM Cup pre-season. It feels different and awkward."

Siale, a former Counties and Chiefs player, now plies his trade for Yamaha in Japan.

"Falevai" translates as "water house" in English, the village surrounded by sandy beaches, clear water and untouched islands nearby.

It is an idyllic little place, though basic, said Piutau, who was born in Auckland to parents who emigrated from Tonga separately and met in New Zealand in their early 20s.

"I'm used to having shops around. And showers. Everything there is pretty basic - they eat off the plantation - but for me it was quite humbling, going back and seeing the lifestyle there. It makes you even more grateful for what you have. But they enjoy that life. It's really quiet.

"I think there's only one car on the island, a truck which they use to carry the food around."

Piutau travelled to Falevai by plane and boat, a brief respite from the pressure of a World Cup year which for him starts tonight at North Harbour when he will wear the No 14 jersey against the Chiefs.

His selection on the right wing is a reminder of his versatility which will help in his potential selection in the World Cup squad. The other outside backs being eyed will be Julian Savea, Cory Jane, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith.

Starting in round one without the benefit of time in a pre-season match has made both Piutau and coach John Kirwan slightly concerned about the player's fitness. He and fellow All Black Jerome Kaino will probably last between 50 and 60 minutes against a youthful looking Chiefs team minus the experience of Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Cruden.

For Piutau, who made his All Blacks debut in 2013 and has since played 14 tests, it's step one in what could be a long and exciting journey.

"For me it's week in and week out focusing on this team here. I know it's a big year but if I think of the end result there's too much pressure."

The good people of Falevai would probably approve.