Connacht return to Guinness Pro 12 action against Zebre at the Sportsground tomorrow evening (7.35pm ) with some key players expected to give the province a boost.
New Kiwi signings are expected to see some action, including former All Black Mils Muliaini, centre Bundi Aki, who made an earlier than expected debut against Ospreys, and latest recruit from Auckland Blues, Tom McCartney.
Although signed as a hooker, McCartney is also a prop and he could find himself at some stage helping to anchor the scrum with Connacht's front options once again taking an injury hit. Prop JP Cooney is the latest casualty, having fractured his hand in training, and the former Garryowen man will be out of action for up to five weeks. He joins Nathan White, who had arm surgery two weeks ago and is likely to be sidelined for up to three months, while Connacht are also awaiting news on the availability of Rodney Ah You, who has been on the bench for Ireland in the opening two Autumn tests. Also ruled out this week are lock Ali Muldowney with ongoing concussive symptoms, and wing Niyi Adeolokun who suffered high ankle sprain against the Ospreys.
Assistant coach Dan McFarland says it will test Connacht, particularly up front.
“No doubt it is going to be tough, it will be a real test for us. It is one of the things with fellas called up for international duty, it does test your strength in depth. “
On the back of two disappointing performances - losses to Exeter in the Challenge Cup and Ospreys in the Pro 12 - a return to winning ways is essential, particularly if Connacht want to maintain their top six position.
“We have beaten them eight times in the last two years, but when you look at those games, Zebre want to play against us. They are quite a good team, and many aspects of their game are dangerous. Generally we have had very tough battles with them.
Without a match for a month in the Sportsground, Connacht are expecting a bumper crowd.
“It is exciting times, good rugby is being played with quality players, the crowd creates an atmosphere. It is fantastic, and hopefully, if Mils is playing, then the crowd will have even more to look at.”