Lyon’s Heineken Champions Cup campaign started with a whimper in Northampton, but Felipe Contepomi expects Leinster to face the full might of a tuned-in home side when they take on the French league leaders at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland on Saturday.
Pierre Mignoni’s men trailed the Saints 22-0 at one point in Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday. They were appalling for the entire first half, most especially at the lineout, as Dan Biggar’s kicking and a well-drilled English outfit kept them pinned into their own half.
There was a recovery of sorts thereafter, with the final score sitting at 25-14.
Contepomi played with Mignoni at Toulon. He knows — by extension of his time on the continent — the way the Frenchman, and French sides in general, think.
What he saw against the Saints didn’t strike him as evidence of another Gallic shrug at the European Cup.
“I haven’t been in their dressing room or prepared with them before the game, but you definitely can see that Northampton is a team that is top in the Premiership,” said the Leinster assistant coach.
“So maybe it is not that they have been disinterested. If a French team are disinterested they will concede 50 points.
“I would say that were caught out, surprised by the intensity of a European game. But they came back out from the dressing room, changed (the way they set up), and could even have got even closer (on the scoreboard). I wouldn’t say that they were disinterested. I know a French team that is disinterested away from home. It’s a different thing.”
Contepomi and Mignoni played alongside each other for three seasons at Toulon. It was clear then that there was a future for him in coaching after his days as a scrum-half ended. He was a student of the game, with a clear and effective philosophy.
Mignoni is what Contepomi would describe as pragmatic, but with a willingness to take the odd risk when one it is merited. Toulon will play wide and impose their rhythm when they can and, in that, they aren’t all that dissimilar to the Toulouse side Leinster faced in the pool stages last year.
That’s an apposite comparison to make right now. It was at this second-round stage 13 months ago that the province took on the only other four-time champions in Toulouse and coughed up a win that propelled Ugo Mola’s team into a lengthy unbeaten stretch.
“It’s a huge, huge lesson and a huge experience for everyone that was involved,” said Contepomi. “For two reasons. First, because we were in a similar situation coming off a win, five points in the first round at home. And going to play an in-form French. It’s a good lesson.”
It will be Saturday evening before we know if the lesson was learned well enough to avoid defeat, but Leinster are indeed in good form going to France this time and not just because of their six PRO14 wins from six and the defeat of Benetton at the RDS last week.
Joe Tomane (hamstring) and Rory O’Loughlin (shoulder) are doubts this week, but Garry Ringrose was sensational against Benetton and Robbie Henshaw made a cameo off the bench after missing the defeat of Connacht the week before because of illness.
Midfield won’t be an issue.
Tadhg Furlong is another doubt as he continues to work on a ‘minor back complaint’, but Andrew Porter has been in fine form at tighthead — and loose — this season, and Leinster have been singing the praises of Michael Bent who came on for him last week.
Caelan Doris will have to pass the various return-to-play protocols after suffering a head injury early on last time out, while Will Connors has already ticked all those boxes from the week before and is again available for selection.
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