Rolling On

'We need to get back to that momentum' - Leinster aim to pick up where they left off

Felipe Contepomi says the province’s players returned to pre-season in excellent condition.

LEINSTER ASSISTANT COACH Felipe Contepomi says the province will embrace the challenge of picking up where they left off when rugby makes its planned return in Ireland in August.

Leinster will break up for a fortnight on Friday after completing three weeks of pre-season training, returning on Monday 27 July to begin gearing up for scheduled Pro14 inter-provincial clashes against Munster and Ulster in August.

jonathan-sexton-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-fourth-try Leinster were on a serious roll before the lockdown. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Leo Cullen’s men will hope to retain their Pro14 title in the 2019/20 final, which has been set for 12 September, while their Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens is due to take place the following weekend.

With the new 2020/21 season to look forward to as well, Leinster will hope to regain the impressive momentum they had built up before the lockdown, when they had won every single game in the 2019/20 campaign.

The last time Cullen’s team lost a game of any kind was the Champions Cup final against Saracens on 11 May 2019.

“We’d like to think we’ll come back stronger from this time,” said Contepomi today of Leinster’s aim.

“I know momentum is very important in sport and it’s about trying to get back that momentum. It’s not something that was coincidental, we’ve been working and building up for the last few years to get that momentum and that type of game we’re playing.

“Hopefully, we can continue that when we get back to playing. We need to get back to that momentum, so it’s a challenge, yes, but a welcome challenge.”

Contepomi explained that Leinster’s return to training has been different to usual, particularly given that Covid-19 protocols meant they weren’t able to pass balls during the first week back.

Coaches and players fill in a questionnaire on an app first thing each morning in order to ensure they’re symptom-free to come into the training centre, where they have their temperature checked on arrival. There are no commons areas at the province’s UCD base and everyone leaves to work from home as soon as training in the gym or on the pitch is finished.

luke-mcgrath-josh-van-der-flier-robbie-henshaw-and-dave-kearney-celebrate Leinster are due to resume rugby with a clash against Munster in August. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

With a two-week break to come now, though, Leinster will be a little closer to “normality” when they resume training later this month.

Contepomi has been impressed with the physical condition players returned in, suggesting the extended lockdown was good for them.

“Having a three-month break for a professional player, it’s a grace. They’ll never get it again, hopefully, so in terms of recovering their body and so on, it’s been great.

“They kept on doing fitness. So I know we are taking baby steps to go back to normality and playing rugby, but it was good for these first three weeks to have some change of directions.

“The guys have been working really, really hard during the lockdown. Having three months of a kind of pre-season, you won’t get it that often. Some of these guys really got into it and when they came back for tests, they were great. We’re very comfortable with how fit they are.

“Now it’s about getting back into rugby and getting them used to the decision-making and the details and skills we have in rugby. Fitness-wise, they look really well.”

Leinster confirmed 28 new senior contracts two weeks ago, with five young players stepping up from their academy.

felipe-contepomi Leinster assistant coach Felipe Contepomi. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

With impressive depth in most areas of the pitch, Leinster will have selection headaches again next season and Contepomi is looking forward to some intense selection meetings.

“I think the squad is looking really good,” he said. “I’d rather have that headache. Take one paracetamol and it will go away.

“I’d rather that than having the headache of not having choices to pick from. That competitiveness will bring the level up for young players, keep senior players’ level up. There are no places guaranteed in this squad, so it’s a great challenge.

“For coaches, it’s all you can ask for. You might have more difficult conversations but that’s part of the job and it’s welcome. I feel it’s a great place where we are and hopefully the guys can push themselves to get the best out of themselves.”

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