Connacht to release Mils Muliaina after injury-hit season
All Black legend has only made 10 appearances for Pat Lam’s side so far this season
Connacht coach Pat Lam doth protest but Mils Muliaina’s sojourn in Ireland is currently bound for the cabinet labelled “foreign disappointments”. Neatly filed alongside fellow Kiwis, Christian Cullen and Craig Clarke.
The All Black centurion will leave Galway this summer for Pro12 basement-dwellers Zebre having, thus far, made precious little impact in just 10 appearances.
Muliaina has been injured more often than not. The 34-year-old arrived in Connacht this season still recuperating from elbow surgery despite signing a contract believed to be worth almost €300,000.
Other Connacht players with similar first-team exposure are being offered development contracts for €10,000.
Connacht manager Tim Allnutt conducts these negotiations but Lam has a strong influence in the background. This is not unlike the methodology employed by the IRFU before David Nucifora’s appointment as high performance director.
“We have to fit everyone into our budget,” said Lam, when contacted by The Irish Times.
“Connacht have to make decisions on what we can afford each season. It would have been nice to keep Mils but we had to consider the development of indigenous fullbacks Tiernan O’Halloran and Darragh Leader.”
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There is a commercial argument for pouring vast amounts of a squad’s player budget into a high-profile foreign recruit. Racing Metro 92 recently received a major increase in sponsorship revenue after luring Dan Carter to Paris as Johnny Sexton’s replacement. Carter will be paid around €1.25 million a season, most of which will be covered by his marketability.
Whether Connacht got a similar boost from sponsors when Muliaina’s arrived is unlikely but it would have significantly improved their pulling power for future recruitment.
“Mils was always a one-year deal,” explained Lam. “The reality is we signed him as a player mentor and he has done that.
“We didn’t want Mils purely as a rugby player and said that from the start. He has been a whole lot of benefit on the fullbacks we have coming through, like Darragh. You can also see the direct impact he has had on Tiernan, even Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw and Matt Healy.
“The reason we have made so much ground this season is the impact behind the scenes,” Lam continued. “Mils is part of that. It’s about challenging players. It’s how the All Blacks do it, it’s how I was brought up in my career to do it.”
Connacht remain on course to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.
Muliaina is available for tomorrow’s Challenge Cup quarter-final away to Gloucester after recovering from a back problem.
Unless, however, there is a dramatic improvement from the great All Black, he will have failed to live up to his thrilling reputation – much like Cullen during his injury-cursed three seasons at Munster.
Connacht, under Lam’s watch, have heavily recruited from New Zealand. Craig Clarke was quickly made team captain but only played for six months after suffering a 10th concussion in two years. He was subsequently forced to retire.
Lam can also cite the rapid promotion of home-grown players through the academy. He would not say if Muliaina would be replaced with another foreign signing. Recruitment is “ongoing”.
On Henshaw’s mooted move to Leinster after next season, he used the same word. Henshaw will almost certainly be offered a national contract in 2016 so that decision may be taken largely out of Connacht’s hands.