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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Contepomi feels Madigan is in 'early stages of becoming a Johnny Sexton'

The former Leinster and Argentina out-half is in town for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final.

Murray Kinsella reports from Cardiff

FELIPE CONTEPOMI SEEMED somewhat omnipresent yesterday in Cardiff.

Now working as a pundit with ESPN, the former Leinster out-half was shaking hands and catching up with old friends as Ireland held their media event in the Marriott hotel in the city centre.

He took questions from journalists left, right and centre, before we rushed to the car to get out to the Vale Resort for Argentina’s presser.

Felipe Contepomi with Rhys Ruddock, Ian Madigan and Jonathan Sexton in the Boca stadium dressing room Contepomi with Sexton, Madigan and Rhys Ruddock last year in Argentina. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was Contepomi when we arrived in, shaking hands and catching up with old friends, a few fierce hugs thrown in this time and even more raucous laughter. France had Serge Blanco about the place last week, now the Pumas have Felipe.

You half wonder if he dropped into the French camp in Celtic Manor or made the trip to Swansea to share a joke with the Kiwis.

Many of Contepomi’s caps for Argentina in the later years of his career came in the 12 shirt, but he is best remembered as an out-half in Ireland. The Argentine’s time at Leinster coincided with the emergence of Johnny Sexton as a force.

Though you suspect that Contepomi and Sexton had their run-ins in those early years of the Irishman’s career, the 87-times capped Puma recalls only a youngster with a ferocious desire to get better.

I could see a great player coming through,” says Contepomi. “We worked a lot with Johnny during those days and you could see in his focus how he wanted to improve every single training session. He is still doing that.”

Sexton is rehabbing an adductor injury this week after limping off against the French in Cardiff last Sunday, the hope being that the Leinster playmaker will prove his fitness before this weekend’s quarter-final against the Argentinians.

“For me he is one of the best out-halves in the world, if not the best,” says Contepomi. “Johnny, as a spectator, I love to watch him in every game.”

“I feel sorry for him not to be fit. Maybe it’s good for Argentina, I don’t know, because Ireland have big depth in strength.”

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Johnny Sexton Contepomi worked with Sexton at Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ian Madigan was the latest man to underline that depth with an exceptionally composed display after replacing Sexton in the first half last weekend.

Madigan actually won his first Leinster cap in the same 2008/09 season that proved to be Contepomi’s final one with the province. The doctor remembers the former Blackrock student being about the place, and believes the quality is there to continue his progress.

“Yeah, I remember Ian,” says Contepomi. “He was very young when I was there. To be honest, I worked more with Johnny. Ian is in the early stages of becoming a Johnny Sexton, maybe. He’s a great individual skilful player.

As a controller of the game I think Johnny is by far the best one. Both, I think, have been favoured by the rules. Johnny appeared when the rules started to favour the attacking teams and not the kicking teams or the defending teams.

“He came on at the right moment and that’s why he is the man he is. Having said that, if you ask him to play a kicking game he can do that as well because he has all the skills, he has everything in the bag.

“Ian will become a player like that if he wants to. I don’t know him that well but, for me, the difference between Johnny and other fly-halves of his age is his mental strength and his desire to improve every single training session.”

One man Contepomi is upset won’t be on the pitch on Sunday is Paul O’Connell, even if that fact only improves Argentina’s chances of victory.

Felipe Contepomi tackled by Paul O'Connell 23/4/2006 O'Connell gets to grips with Contepomi in 2006. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I feel really sorry and devastated for Paul. He is a great ambassador for Irish and Munster rugby. Although I haven’t played with him, only against him, but he remains one of those great gentlemen in rugby.

“I am sure he will come back stronger. He has another big challenge and I am sure he will come back stronger to play outside his comfort zone in Toulon. It is a huge challenge to go to play in France and he will show everyone that he is at his best when he comes back.

And maybe he will play in an Ireland jersey again. Or the Lions, you never know.”

So, call this weekend’s game, Felipe.

“I don’t know about the better team, I like how Argentina is playing. Obviously I will support Argentina. It’s my soul.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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