Mils Muliaina still 'very much' part of Pat Lam's plans for Connacht
Connacht coach Pat Lam has said that Mils Muliaina remains very much part of his squad and he hopes that the former All Black gets to play again for the province before he leaves for Italy in the summer.
Muliaina, arrested after the game against Gloucester on Friday night and questioned by police about an alleged sexual assault in Cardiff last month, is out for the next two to three weeks with a thigh injury.
Lam refused to discuss the arrest of the first All Black to play for Connacht, citing that it remains a legal matter, when asked about it at yesterday's press conference at the Sportsground.
Muliaina, capped 100 times by New Zealand, was detained by police overnight in Cardiff. His arrest was broadcast on Sky Sports, moments after Connacht were defeated 14-7 in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup by Gloucester.
The 34-year-old was released on police bail and has not been charged in relation to the alleged incident. He denies any wrongdoing. Muliaina was present at the Sportsground yesterday and Lam said he was with the other injured players.
"He's joined our RTP (return to play) group and then he'll get his treatment with the other injured boys."
Lam also confirmed that the announcement that Muliaina was leaving to join Zebre in the summer, which was made just a couple of days before the clash with Gloucester, had nothing to do with what unfolded on Friday when the player was arrested.
"No link at all," said Lam.
Connacht have four games left in the Pro12 and while Muliaina, who has only played 11 games since joining, faces two to three weeks recovering from the grade two adductor strain picked up against Gloucester, Lam is hopeful he will play for Connacht before leaving for Zebre.
"Of course. What I hope is that he's available again but you know again he has to go through that just like the other long injury list that we have. There's a big group in there," he said.
Lam said that Muliaina would meet with Connacht officials to review the situation internally but declined to say when that meeting will take place. "No, that's internal. It's in the coming days." Asked was Muliaina still part of the squad, Lam said: "Very much so."
The Connacht coach was asked if the matter was discussed at the squad meeting earlier this week.
"No. Everything that we do when we come together as a team, our team meetings are all about a review of the game and moving forward. We can't comment on anything around it. We went through the normal process of a Monday and we just went through the game.
"I can't comment on anything around the incident," added Lam. He was asked about what level of support was being given to Muliaina by Connacht. "Again I can't comment on it," he said.
Connacht's opponents on Saturday Ulster will have one of their strongest squads of the season available for the trip to the Sportsground.
Jared Payne, Rory Best and Tommy Bowe are all set to feature for the first time since January following their involvement with Ireland's Six Nations campaign, Paddy Jackson and Chris Henry have come through their recent returns to action unscathed, and Stuart McCloskey is back from the four-week ban resulting from his red card against Edinburgh back in February. Roger Wilson will still be considered for selection despite his recent arrest for an alleged driving offence.
"For players who want to get into our starting team, the 23, and that extended World Cup squad, they know they need to perform and be on the top of their game," said head coach Neil Doak.
"You need competition, you need a little bit of edge, to make sure that people are putting their hands up.
"It's a headache but it's a welcome headache."