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'It has been hard on the players as they've had to try and understand my English'

Felipe Contepomi can’t hide his delight at being back in Dublin with Leinster, and the former out-half is working hard to help the European champions evolve further.

ON ONE OF the many meeting room walls inside Leinster’s UCD headquarters is a new mural to mark the province’s landmark double, flanked either side by reminders of the other memorable days from down through the years.

Felipe Contepomi Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

From Lansdowne Road and the Celtic League-winning team in 2001, to the current squad and the fourth European star in Bilbao on that gloriously rainy May day just gone, they’re all there, indelible moments in time captured and proudly displayed for all to see.

And although players have come and gone, retired and moved on, the same familiar faces remain front and centre. Cullen, Easterby, Dempsey, Nacewa, Sexton, Toner, Healy, Kearney. And, now, Felipe Contepomi, hidden away at the back of several team photos.

In 2009, the Argentinian hobbled onto the Murrayfield pitch to join in the celebrations having famously suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in the semi-final win over Munster, allowing Johnny Sexton to make the Croke Park stage his own.

A lot has changed in those nine years, a lot more memories added to that wall, and Contepomi returns to Dublin and to a club which has evolved and developed immeasurably both on and off the field since he helped orchestrate that first European title under Michael Cheika.

“It’s all changed for the better,” he smiles. “It’s just great to be back, I’m enjoying it.”

The winds of change at Leinster were already prevalent during Contepomi’s six-year stay, but the place is almost unrecognisable from when he left to continue his career in France with Toulon, the Portakabin changing rooms at Donnybrook replaced by a state-of-the-art high performance facility just one major difference.

“The infrastructure, the training facilities,” he marvels. “They’re magnificent, and then on the pitch, well the results last year… Everything has come a long way since I left.”

Even during his time in France, Contepomi kept a close eye on Leinster, revelling in the achievements of the squad under Joe Schmidt and even attending the 2011 and 2012 Heineken Cup finals as a supporter.

Getting to Bilbao was a bit of a stretch given he had settled back at home in Buenos Aires in the years between Leinster’s European triumphs, but little did the 41-year-old know he’d be back in blue a few short weeks later.

The departure of Girvan Dempsey to Bath created the opening and having enhanced his coaching credentials with the Argentine Rugby Union for the last three years, Contepomi saw it as an opportunity too good to turn down.

“Maybe things happen for a reason, but I’m really glad it happened,” the former out-half says, sitting in on his first Monday morning media session as Leinster’s backs coach.

Felipe Contepomi Contepomi speaking at UCD this afternoon. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Contepomi has spent the last five weeks of pre-season settling in and getting to know the large squad of players at Leinster, as well as working with the rest of the coaching ticket to implement his own ideas and vision for the game.

The players have spoken about the impact Contepomi has already made, consistently referencing the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes on the group as they look to double down on last year’s near-perfect season.


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“There’s a lot to improve, and especially because we’ve got a very young squad, we can improve a lot still,” he continues.

“Even until the last day of your career you can always improve. It’s boring always talking about Johnny [Sexton], but Johnny is a great example of how players can keep improving even when they’re at the top of their game.

“For me, it’s simple. Hard work, you have to work and get better every day and if you keep improving every day the chances of you improving a dream result are better.

“If you just stay still and think it will happen again because you’ve been the champions, it won’t. You just have to work hard. Work hard and keep improving, that’s our goals.”

On his role ahead of Friday’s Pro14 opener against Cardiff Blues, and what he has tried to fine-tine and improve in Leinster’s attack, Contepomi added: “First of all it has been hard for them [the players] because they have to try and understand my English, it has been a challenge for them as well.

“We’ve tried to improve as a whole, as a team. We’ve tried to bring new things into our starter plays and some other change of mentality to get Leinster to another level in certain areas. It has been really entertaining and good over these five weeks and we are getting to where we want to be.

“But you keep on working, you can’t go too fast. You have to respect times and the learning curves to bring new things into a team. It’s not about changing everything, it’s about bringing things in that can make us a better team because, actually, Leinster are the reigning champions in both competitions. We are a good team, but there’s always room to improve and that’s what we’re doing.”

From his point of view, the heavy pre-season defeat to Newcastle Falcons was a beneficial work-out in the sense it allowed the Leinster backline to blow off a few cobwebs and try some of the new combinations and plays they’ve been working on over the summer.

Felipe Contepomi Contepomi at team training in Donnybrook this afternoon. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But the serious business begins this week at the Cardiff Arms Park where Leinster get their title defence underway with a tricky assignment against the Blues [KO 7.35pm, eir Sport/TG4], before travelling to face the Scarlets in a repeat of last year’s final in round two. 

It’s a tough start for Cullen’s side, particularly with the province’s internationals still following delayed returns following Ireland’s summer tour of Australia, and Contepomi admits the players set to be involved won’t need to be reminded of the significance of the first few weeks of the season.

“We want a fast start, we want to start well,” he adds. “We’ve had a good preparation towards this game and we need to start fast. We are eager because when competition starts, it’s the nature of every professional player to compete for the points and it’s not a friendly game anymore.

“There’s a great buzz but we know the challenge we are facing. It’s a tough challenge to go and play Cardiff, they are also European champions, the Challenge Cup champions. We are up for it and our comfortable with where we’re it. We have trust in the guys we have.”

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Ryan Bailey

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