Pat Lam juggles Connacht's player budget to pull off Muliaina coup
CONNACHT coach Pat Lam has insisted that his player budget has not increased for next season despite landing All Black legend Mils Muliaina on a one-year deal believed to be worth more than €300,000.
The capture of the 33-year-old World Cup winner is the latest major transfer coup by Lam, who trumped two other provinces to sign Chiefs centre Bundee Aki as well as signing Auckland Blues hooker Tom McCartney. Both join on three-year deals at the end of the New Zealand domestic season.
Muliaina's remit during his season-long stay will be extended to mentoring up-and-coming local players like Robbie Henshaw and Daragh Leader, while his arrival is set to give the province a major commercial boost.
Lam, who coached Muliaina at the Blues, travelled to New Zealand in January on a recruiting mission and convinced the full-back to come to Galway. And, with the likes of Gavin Duffy, Dan Parks and Frank Murphy moving on at the end of the season, the coach says he has been able to juggle the budget but he stressed it has not been increased to facilitate the high-profile signings.
Last month, IRFU president Pat Fitzgerald revealed that the Union had just sanctioned extra money for Connacht, but Lam said that this was to take care of a historical debt and other off-field costs, and that the playing budget was unchanged.
"We won't have spent one cent more on this year's squad than what was spent on last year's squad, same budget. The players' wages haven't changed," he said. "Everyone knows we had a big deficit, that is historical and that needed to get sorted, but the player budget has not changed.
"The budget is exactly the same as it was and our recruitment and retention is all around managing the budget."
Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy, who played against Muliaina three times at Test level, hailed the signing.
"It's an unbelievable signing for Connacht, he's as close a player as you'll get to Isa (Nacewa)," he said.
"He makes incredibly good decisions under pressure, that's what a really, really good player is, someone who makes good decisions and makes the players around him look good."