The All Blacks centurion has spent just a week with the likes of young Ireland caps Henshaw and Kieron Marmion and their provincial team-mates Darragh Leader, Shane Layden and Jack Carty since arriving in Connacht from New Zealand’s Chiefs on a one-year contract.
That has been time enough, though, for the 34-year-old full-back to understand why Connacht coach Pat Lam was so enthusiastic about the potential of the province when persuading his friend to join his coaching project as a player and mentor.
Muliaina will not complete his rehabilitation from an elbow injury for another eight weeks but has already hit the ground running in his other role of helping to unleash that potential from new team-mates who have already made a big impression on him.
“There’s a lot of talk about Robbie [Henshaw], he’s the man. He is a machine, a very talented kid,” Muliaina told the Irish Examiner yesterday. “What I’ve been really impressed by about him is his physical nature and the way he goes about playing the game. Kieron’s had a taste of Irish [Test] rugby, Shane Layden’s got a lot of talent as well, Darragh Leader’s very talented and also Jack Carty, our first-five, those guys I’ve been very impressed with.”
While Lam is looking forward to Muliaina’s arrival on the pitch as much as the player himself, the second-year head coach has been delighted by his new signing’s impact.
“I think having him out on the training field, running around and also just contributing, using his experience and helping, having quiet words with people has been great,” Lam said.
“But having him in the huddle, when he speaks, bang, everyone’s just fully attentive, probably more attentive than they are with me! That’s great. He’s able to see things with his vast experience and even in the leadership group this week he’s talked about game plans, talked about certain things in the schedule, things that we could do better.
Lam, whose side begins its Guinness Pro12 campaign this Saturday at The Sportsground against Newport Gwent Dragons, hopes to be able to give Muliaina his Connacht debut towards the end of November, possibly in the Pro 12 round eight game at home to Zebre, having had a run with the A team prior to that.
Lam said Muliaina’s senior status within the group was everything he expected from a man capped 100 times by New Zealand.
“We’re seeing the benefit of that just from his first week here and I think the biggest thing is, the key thing, he is a vision person, he’s motivated by trying to improve people and the organisation. He’s a humble person, too, a real team man and when I looked over at our team challenge, he’s up there singing with Darragh Leader and Robbie Henshaw and he mingles really well with guys that were in awe of him initially, before he arrived.”