Charles Piutau still harbours World Cup dream despite turning back on All Blacks

Piutau will leave Ulster this summer for Bristol, following two seasons at the Kingspan Stadium. Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Charles Piutau is refusing to give up on his dream of playing at a Rugby World Cup. His decision to sign a contract with Ulster in 2015 cost him a shot at lifting the Webb Ellis Cup with New Zealand later that year, but appearing at the tournament remains a burning ambition.

Instead of making the trip to England with the All Blacks, Piutau arrived as a Wasp in late 2015, ahead of his move to Ulster, and he has since established himself as one of Europe's most exciting players. His impending return to the Gallagher Premiership on a two-year deal with Bristol, meanwhile, has put paid to any notion that he might add to his 17 Test caps.

Piutau harbours no regrets about chasing All Black recognition, yet now that door has closed he believes another should be open to him. Having represented Tonga, the country of his parents' birth, at under-20 level before switching allegiance to New Zealand, the Auckland-born back believes World Rugby's eligibility rules should be relaxed for the World Cup in Japan.

"Both countries are very close to me, and both cultures I have grown up in," Piutau, who has spoken to Tonga coach Toutai Kefu about donning the Pacific nation's red shirt in Japan, told ESPN. "Given the opportunity I will [play for them at the World Cup].

"It is the pinnacle and something I haven't done yet. If the opportunity did come up and the pathway, I would love to do it one day. If it never came I would still be happy with the career that I am having."

He added: "I told him [Kefu] if it was genuinely possible, I would look at it and would try it out. I have had that conversation.

"It was kind of like the same choice I made back then [in 2010]. I played for Tonga in the U20s and then knowing eligibility that you have to choose one or the other, at the time it was a tough decision but I chose to chase the New Zealand jersey."

Piutau admits there was no turning back once that decision was made but with his All Black fate sealed, he was determined to make the most of the new experiences and opportunities that moving to Europe brought with it.

"When you have decided to make a decision, there is no looking back and you commit to one and you go all out and enjoy the process," he said. "No doubt it is not going to be all perfect but there will be times that will be tough and [you cannot] doubt your decision once you make it.

"At first, it was a very hard decision. Growing up it was always a special thing to put on that black jersey. The only time I think about it is good memories and not really looking back and what ifs, nothing like that. I look back on that time, on those opportunities and really grateful for those opportunities.

"I am really embracing the new teams, countries that I have been to now and embracing the cultures in the clubs has been an awesome experience so far."

His upcoming move to Bristol in the summer will reportedly make Piutau the world's best paid player. But while he is in a privileged position, he acknowledges that World Rugby needs to do something to prevent the best talent from the likes of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa being cherry picked. He also feels the introduction of academies -- set up by European clubs in the islands -- has stunted the development of the Pacific nations.

"It is something that is beyond me but you hope that people who have power, help these situations, and can change rules or put borders to help these nations," Piutau said. "It is a something that needs to be looked at -- how can these nations build their teams?"

He added: "To a certain extent it has [curtailed their development]. On the flip side of that, most of the Pacific Island boys, the lifestyle they are currently living on the islands is probably not the richest. When given the opportunity it is a blessing to the individual and their family.

"They are the two ways to look at it but in terms of building the teams, all the unions that do well, they have things set in place, academies, age grade team feeding the older teams and that breeds success and keeps the senior national team at a good level."

Before the validity of a potential World Cup bow with Tonga can be ironed out, Piutau will sign off from Ulster duty at Munster on Saturday before he is reunited with older brother Siale -- who is played alongside at Wasps -- and coach Pat Lam at newly-promoted Bristol.

"Professionally the only team we got to play together was with Wasps but growing up it would be backyard footy," he said. "There is a six-year gap between us. Growing up I was always too small to tackle him. He was always ahead of me and too strong and fast but I would like to think I slowly caught up.

"[There are] exciting times ahead, new challenge, new environment, and obviously I wanted to be a part of it. I'm looking forward to it when the time comes and having the opportunity to play alongside my brother again.

"I've known Pat from back in New Zealand and had a chat with him. For me, he is someone who knows what he wants, has a vision, has a vision for the club, where he wants to take the club. It was something that I really bought into and something I wanted to be a part.

"There is definitely a lot of ambition, starting from Pat and filtering through the team. I will be excited when I do start that journey and get first-half experience."