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Gary Carr/INPHO Felipe Contepomi speaking at Leinster's press conference ahead of their trip to Thomond Park.
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Resting of stars won't dilute 'one of the biggest derbies in world rugby' - Contempomi
‘Munster won’t change the way they play because of the way Joey does or doesn’t play…’

BY DESIGN, NEITHER province will be at full strength when Munster and Leinster resume pleasantries at Thomond Park this Saturday but Felipe Contepomi doesn’t believe the absence of big names will detract from what he described as one of world rugby’s biggest derbies.

The Argentinian played in his fair share of such clashes during an era in which both provinces came out with all of their available big guns blazing, but views the fixture through a different prism now — that of Leinster’s assistant coach who is cognisant that the big games are coming thick and fast on the back of a hectic World Cup schedule which began for Ireland in the summer.

And so three successive interpros have been deemed by the IRFU as the most opportune time to manage minutes, particularly given they immediately succeed back-to-back European weekends.

Contepomi, though, believes this weekend’s south-versus-east clash won’t be any the worse for the mixing and matching both Leo Cullen and Johan van Graan will have to contend with when they name their matchday squads later this week.

“Leinster-Munster is one of the biggest derbies in world rugby,” he said. “For me it is one of the biggest dates and one of the best games to be involved in. I personally don’t like talking about first or second tiers. It is Munster-Leinster.

“It takes a lot to be in that moment and for me, especially in the way that tournaments are being held now, this is our 10th game in a row with another four big games coming. That is when you start to see how the real squad functions. Everyone is working hard and some guys will have their chances against Munster, some had it against Ulster and some will have it against Connacht.

As a rugby player it is one of those atmospheres that is great to play in. Being able to be part of a Leinster-Munster game, it is one of the biggest derbies in world rugby by far. I have been in some other big derbies, like Stade-Racing, and I don’t know if they are the same.

felipe-contepomi Morgan Treacy / INPHO Contepomi during training in Donnybrook. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Of course, Munster have already made a change in Contepomi’s area of expertise with former Wallaby Stephen Larkham now steering Van Graan’s backs, his impact already marked if still, at this early juncture, imperfect.

The former Puma praised Munster’s style of play under the Australian’s influence but claimed Leinster won’t be paying too much heed to Larkham or his approach specifically, but rather the “traditionally strong” Munster outfit which he feels will await his side in Limerick this Saturday.

“We always scout the opposition but to start with we try to get better with what we want to do and we have some things to improve on, especially from last weekend,” Contepomi said. “We focus first on us and then you see, yeah, Munster have new coaches in Stephen and [Graham] Rowntree.

He (Larkham) has added a few things but Munster by themselves have traditionally been very strong anyway so it is not like this is someone who came and suddenly they have a new team. We know historically how they play and what it takes to go there and get a result.

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“We have the experience of last year in Thomond so we are expecting a very big challenge.

“There are a few traits that Munster do and they have been adding others this year. It is good to see them playing really good rugby.”

joey-carbery Bryan Keane / INPHO Carbery could feature on Saturday for the hosts. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

As for Contepomi’s area of expertise on the field of play, Leinster’s opponents could yet be bolstered by the long-awaited return of one Joey Carbery, who is yet to feature for Munster this season.

JJ Hanrahan has held the fort to relative success albeit with a couple of big European moments going awry, but regardless of who starts at out-half at the weekend, Contepomi says Leinster’s approach won’t change — because Munster’s won’t either.

Again, he stressed that the Guinness Pro14 champions will be thinking of themselves first and foremost, and studying their southern rivals as an overall package rather than an assortment of individual threats.

“He hasn’t been playing that much but if you ask me about Joey Carbery, he is a great footballer. Whatever team he plays in would be delighted to have a type of player like him.

“If he comes in, it is good for him. He could definitely be a threat but it is just one more piece of the puzzle. It is not the whole thing.

“Munster won’t change the way they play because of the way Joey does or doesn’t play, and we focus on ourselves first and then scout Munster as a team and not just as individual players.”

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