Leinster legend, Munster bete noire.
Mentor to Jonathan Sexton and the man whose knee injury opened the door for Ireland’s number back in 2009. Oh, he’s Argentinian, too. Talk about the right man in the right place at the right time. Yep, few men tie this week’s various storylines into one neat bundle better than Felipe Contepomi.
In Cardiff this week on media duties, he turned up at Ireland’s media briefing in the city centre still looking impossibly cool and incredibly fit and he spoke smoothly to a procession of journalists impatient for his bon mots on Paulie, Sexto and much more besides.
We started with his thoughts on O’Connell. Contepomi spent six years baiting, and being baited by, Munster so he knows the Ireland captain well. Not just that, but he suffered a knee ligament injury in May 2009 playing against them in that Heineken Cup semi-final and it delayed the start of his next career chapter with … Toulon.
See? What a guy to have turn upon your doorstep. “I feel really sorry and devastated for Paul,” he said.
“He is a great ambassador for Irish rugby and Munster rugby and, although I haven’t played with him, I have played against him and I can tell you he is one of those great gentlemen in rugby.
He has another big challenge to get out of his comfort zone with Munster and go and play with Toulon. It is a big challenge to go and play in France and he will show everyone he is at his best when he comes back.”
Jonathan Sexton has already had his French fling, of course. It wasn’t everything he would have hoped for, but his signing by Racing Metro and his wage packet were both symbolic of his status as one of the most sought-after players in the world.
In 2009, he was a 24-year bit-part operator who had almost left Leinster in search of better opportunities, but then Contepomi came a cropper and the rest is history. He hasn’t been surprised by the transformation as he had always seen a great in waiting.
“I worked a lot with Johnny those days and you could see in his focus how he wanted to improve in every single training session,” he said. “And he is still doing that. For me, he is one of the best out-halves in the world at the moment, if not the best. I feel sorry for him that he is not 100% fit,” he said.
It’s a lesser known fact, but Contepomi’s absence also helped Ian Madigan move up a notch on the career ladder as well. In his case, it was a nine-minute debut off the bench against the Dragons a few weeks after that Croke Park classic.
“Ian is in the early stages of a (Sexton mould),” said the versatile back who was part of an Argentina side that defeated Ireland at the 2007 World Cup. “He is a great individual skilful player who has control of the game. Johnny is by far the best one at the moment. Ian will become a player like (Sexton) if he wants to.”
As for Sunday? “They are both good teams. I like how Argentina is playing. I don’t bet and I think that’s the beauty of this World Cup: the quarter-finals are so even and especially this game. You have four quarters with northern against southern hemisphere teams and you can’t tell (who will win).” And with that, he was off. Nabbed by yet another eager inquisitor.
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