Isaac Boss praises former team-mate Muliaina’s impact at Connacht
Leinster scrumhalf says All Black has enabled others to express themselves
A youthful Isaac Boss (right) attempts to tackle Mils Muliaina during a 2001 NPC match between Auckland and Waikato. Thirteen years on they meet again at the RDS. Photograph: Michael Bradley/Getty Images.
It’s been maybe 15 years since they shared the same jersey on the New Zealand under-19 team. Even then Mils Muliaina and Isaac Boss were on different trajectories. Then again, not many players were on the same career path as the All Black with 100 caps.
Boss played for clubs in New Zealand before leaving Waikato for Ulster in 2005 and throwing his lot in with Ireland. Connacht’s visit to the RDS at the weekend will rekindle memories of another life, which Muliaina was part of.
Both are now 34-years-old but Muliaina completes the circle with Connacht’s visit, a scenario neither player could have ever forecast.
“Yeah, the first I would have played with him was New Zealand under-19s. I know Mils very well,” says Boss. “He is a leader but doesn’t just lead by talk. He is very skilful and has that experience of knowing what to do and when to do it.
“He is a good guy and a lot of young players are feeding off him over there. You have Bundee Aki as well who is another talented player. They are getting stronger as the season is going on and it’s going to be tough.”
Connacht arrive with a reputation now broader than being fiery westerners with a knack for the odd upset. Their last-kick weekend win over Bayonne with Pat Lam adjusting the team to the tune of 15 players not only points to greater depth but a game that is working for them.
Muliaina is not just a class act on the field but a symbol of ambition from a province that has grown up fast under Lam. Leinster will be seen as a possible scalp more than a threat as Connacht fast shake off the image of the ‘little brother’ province, from which the others cherry pick players.
Express themselvesRobbie Henshaw
“It probably takes the load off guys like Henshaw’s shoulders and the young 10s,” says Boss. “They can express themselves a bit more and that is probably key for Connacht. Those two guys (Muliaina and Aki) coming in and the experience . . . that they can take hard decisions or step up to the plate if they need to and let the rest of the guys just worry about their own performance and not worry too much about being in control of the game. That’s what experience does.”
That under-19 team proved to be a breeding ground for senior internationals. Aside from Boss and Muliaina, Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins, Aaron Mauger and Tony Woodcock went on to play Test rugby for New Zealand, the ageless McCaw still playing.
Boss isn’t happy with the way Leinster played against Harlequins. But there’s no turning him from the view that Leinster can win in Europe. He says he’d back them against anyone and there’s no fear of going to Toulon or Clermont if they get to the knock-out phase. But that conversation is going nowhere.
“That’s a long way down the track. It’s a bit disrespectful when in five days time we have Connacht. That’s probably more important to us right now.
“We have looked at ‘Quins and we know where we could have done better. We got the four points but we have to move on pretty quickly as we have Connacht, Munster, Ulster. If we dwell too much on ‘Quins and how we’re going to beat Toulon later on, if we get them, then Connacht will come here and turn us over.”