Felipe Contepomi: Leinster back up to speed after rusty restart

Leinster were unbeaten this season, through 20 league and European Cup games, before the pandemic struck and yet Felipe Contepomi says the province's players couldn't even pass the ball when they returned to training after months in lockdown.
Felipe Contepomi: Leinster back up to speed after rusty restart
"Having a three-month break for a professional player, it's a grace," said Leinster legend and assistant coach Felipe Contepomi. Photos by Marcus Ó Buachalla for Leinster Rugby via Sportsfile
"Having a three-month break for a professional player, it's a grace," said Leinster legend and assistant coach Felipe Contepomi. Photos by Marcus Ó Buachalla for Leinster Rugby via Sportsfile

Leinster were unbeaten this season, through 20 league and European Cup games, before the pandemic struck and yet Felipe Contepomi says the province's players couldn't even pass the ball when they returned to training after months in lockdown.

It's not an observation that should be taken literally but it does give a sense as to just how rusty even the best sportspeople must have been as they emerged blinking from their homes and back gardens last month when the first of the restrictions were eased and some normality resumed.

"Having a three-month break for a professional player, it's a grace," said the Leinster legend and assistant coach. "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 first week was challenging because we couldn't even pass the ball, we couldn't use the ball, but the boys adapted well and we've been building up to getting to more normal. Hopefully, when we come back from the break we'll be able to play a more normal style of rugby. But these three weeks have been great."

Leinster will bring this block of training to an end on Friday with the team and staff sent off on another fortnight's break. They clock in again on July 27th which will give them four weeks of a lead-in to the resumption of their campaign, against Munster at the Aviva Stadium on the weekend of August 22/23.

This will be a very different period of downtime to that afforded the players back in late May and June when restrictions were still much tighter. It's unlikely that any will be of a mind to replicate some of the heavy-duty strength and conditioning programmes done through the spring.

One photograph of a bulked-up Jonathan Sexton in a Leinster singlet really caught the eye late last month.

One photograph of a bulked-up Jonathan Sexton in a Leinster singlet really caught the eye late last month.
One photograph of a bulked-up Jonathan Sexton in a Leinster singlet really caught the eye late last month.

"Don't always trust the photoshoots," Contepomi joked. "They can make a chimpanzee look nice. 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's well-being extends into other numbers. The province announced 28 new contracts recently with five players upgraded from academy deals and the veteran pair of Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden extending their terms through to the end of this interrupted season. Leo Cullen and his staff are spoiled for choice.

"I think the squad is looking really good. I'd rather have that headache. Take one paracetamol and it will go away," said Contepomi. "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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