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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 12°C
James Crombie/INPHO Muliaina starts at full-back against Zebre.
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Mils Muliaina to make Connacht debut while Munster and Ulster boosted by Irish player availability
All eyes will be on the All Black at the Sportsgrounds tomorrow evening.

MILS MULIAINA WILL make his long-awaited Connacht debut in Friday’s clash with Zebre as the Guinness Pro12 returns after a three week break.

The 34-year-old joined Pat Lam’s side at the start of the season but has been limited to a mentoring role of the province’s fledgling backs as he recovered from elbow surgery.

However, the international break has allowed the former All Black to complete his recovery. Muliaina will make his first appearance for the Westerners tomorrow night as Lam makes seven changes to the side that lost to the Ospreys last time out.

He starts at full-back, Bundee Aki will make his home debut in midfield and Miah Nikora makes his seasonal bow at fly-half.

Darragh Leader has been released from the Ireland squad but must settle for a place on the bench alongside former Auckland Blues forward Tom McCartney, who linked up with Connacht from New Zealand at the start of the month.

Connacht are currently sixth in the Pro12 standings and will hope to consolidate their position in the European Cup berths with victory over a side who have lost six out of their opening seven games.

Connacht: 15. Mils Muliaina, 14. Danie Poolman, 13. Bundee Aki, 12. Dave McSharry, 11. Matt Healy, 10. Miah Nikora, 9. Ian Porter, 1. Denis Buckley, 2. Jason Harris-Wright, 3. Ronan Loughney, 4. Mick Kearney, 5. Quinn Roux, 6. John Muldoon (captain), 7. Willie Faloon, 8. George Naoupu.

Boost

Munster have been boosted by the availability of Ian Kealtey and Robin Copeland for their trip to Wales to face Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday evening.

The pair, who featured in Ireland’s win over Georgia last week, have been given permission to play and go straight into Axel Foley’s side.

MunsterÕs Robin Copeland Inpho / Billy Stickland Copeland made his Ireland debut last week but is straight back into the Munster team Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

In all, there are seven changes to the Munster line-up that beat Cardiff Blues at the start of the month. Donncha O’Callaghan once again captains the two-time European Cup winners with hooker Eusebio Guinazu set to make his debut.

Pat Howard could also make his first appearance for Munster after signing on a three-month loan deal. He is named among the replacements for the game at Rodney Parade.

Munster: 15JJ Hanrahan, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Andrew Smith, 12. Denis Hurley, 11. Ronan O’Mahony, 10. Ian Keatley, 9. Cathal Sheridan, 1. John Ryan, 2. Eusebio Guinazu, 3. Stephen Archer, 4. Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 5. Billy Holland, 6. Paddy Butler, 7. Sean Dougall, 8. Robin Copeland.

Stand-out fixture

Ulster, meanwhile, can close the gap on leaders Ospreys when the Welsh side visit Ravenhill in one of the stand out fixtures of Round 8.

Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy and Stuart Olding have all been released by Joe Schmidt and start. All three were involved in the win over Georgia and provide additional firepower to the Ulster ranks as they look to inflict a first defeat of the campaign on Ospreys.

Olding starts at fullback with Gilroy named on the left wing in the only change to the side that beat Newport Gwent Dragons 23-6 three weeks ago.

Ulster: 15. S Olding, 14. L Ludik, 13. D Cave, 12. S McCloskey, 11. C Gilroy, 10. P Jackson, 9. P Marshall, 1. C Black, 2. R Herring, 3. W Herbst, 4. L Stevenson, 5. F vd Merwe, 6. C Ross, 7. S Reidy, 8. R Wilson (captain).

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