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Charles Piutau set to launch rugby's first NFT

By Sam Roberts
Charles Piutau /Getty

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Charles Piutau has retreated outside to his garden. The family home is too busy and bustling with kids over-excited about the impending promise of Christmas to take a video call safely. Those magic feet of his, so often used to make other rugby players look foolish, have tiptoed outside. His fleeting thought to me as our call begins is that he hopes it doesn’t rain.

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His brow furrows as we talk about Bristol and how things are going. The turnaround from the side so dazzling for the last couple of seasons is flummoxing. With just Bath beneath them in the Premiership table, before the EPCR postponement news of their fixture with Stade Francais, Bristol were no doubt trying to realise some form in Europe, helped by a Covid pass in the first round.

“Yeah, we did well last weekend- a five-point victory!” he laughs. “The points system is so tough in the pool stages and we’ve been given the best result in round one… It’s tricky, we’ve just heard that this Sunday has been postponed and we don’t know when that will be. It’s always tough when we can’t play rugby as that is what we look forward to every weekend. But in saying that, it is important to keep every safe and healthy. Our minds have quickly shifted to Leicester next week and we are already preparing for that challenge. It’s been a difficult start in the Premiership. One we probably didn’t see coming. Especially with how we felt in pre-season. But we need to keep learning. It’s a very tough competition.”

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Also unexpected has been the recent announcement from World Rugby around international availability, allowing countries like Tonga to repatriate players who have played for other countries.

“I didn’t see it coming. Through Pacific Rugby Welfare, we’ve made a bit of noise about it before and not much came of it, so I was really surprised to hear the announcement from World Rugby. It is incredibly exciting and I love the thought of playing for Tonga. It’s a huge boost for Tier 2 nations, specifically the Pacific Nations, it will make them more competitive. Names like Vae’a Fifita, Malakai Fekitoa, Ngani Laumape, to see them in a red jersey representing Tonga, that gives me goosebumps for sure. If they want me, I’ll be there. It would make my whole family very proud.”

We talk about the World Cup in two years’ time and how great it would be for the game to see repowered Pacific Nations. We talk about trying to stay fit and agile, and the way age can creep up on you but then he lets slip an intriguing revelation. Perhaps one that shouldn’t have been surprising, knowing how well the former All Black can spot an opportunity: Non-Fungible Tokens (or NFTs). All of a sudden, we are talking about the very latest piece of investment to hit the market.

For the uninitiated, an NFT is a digital token. Something like a bitcoin, but different in the sense that they are unique and cannot be traded like for like. They are the original ownership of the intellectual property, be that video, picture or, as in this case, artwork form. They are starting to get investors very excited and, most recently, World Rugby themselves announced their intention to move into the digital collectibles marketplace. Their own press statement read: “World Rugby plans to launch a programme of digital collectibles to engage fans and transform its commercial models. World Rugby seeks suppliers to co-develop a non-fungible token (NFT) programme.”

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“I’ve always been in property myself,” explains Piutau, “But then, a friend called Ryan Anthoney, who I knew through our kids, and who also does a lot of work in Bristol with Recharge Fitness (gyms and gym equipment), came to me with an idea. And weirdly, I knew all about NFTs from NBA Top Shots. I knew that they can be really popular. And we had this idea to make these for rugby World Cup heroes and it’s gone from there. We launched Ruggerz NFT and went through a fair few trial stages and the first set go on sale proper this weekend. It is something very different and that makes it interesting.”

“It’s a balance, too. Between celebrating the superstars of our sport, but also trying to grow the game. We’ve been crying out for something like a good video game to reach a younger audience and while this isn’t it, it might reach different people and maybe a different generation.”

Exeter Bristol Premiership
(Photo by PA)

“Ruggerz has a Discord group and I’ve already been online and been talking to fans with Siale (Piutau) and Chris (Vui). We want to try and bring people together from around the world, build a good rugby community from this, too. Coming into the different places I have with my rugby career has always meant I got a lot out of rugby communities, I think we need to push this idea out more and I’m happy to be a part of it. Money from any sales will also go back into the Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare Fund. It was a no brainer for me. We will just have to see how it goes!”

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I ask who has the rights to the Charles Piutau Ruggerz NFT card. He laughs.

“At the moment, it is World Cup stars that we are concentrating on for the NFTs. And I haven’t played in a World Cup, have I? Maybe in the future, 2023, with a Tongan crest on my red shirt? How much would you pay for it?”

I grimace, knowing I probably won’t have enough money. And my mind is taken back to his opening comment of our exchange. Charles Piutau has done a great deal already in a glittering rugby career; it’s an ambitious business idea but seeing how well it has worked in others sports, is Charles Piutau about to make it rain?

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