Contepomi sees Munster clash as perfect preparation for season's end

The Argentine is departing Leinster at the end of the season to join his native country's coaching ticket with Michael Cheika
Contepomi sees Munster clash as perfect preparation for season's end

Backs coach Felipe Contepomi during Leinster rugby squad training at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Felipe Contepomi has plenty to occupy his mind before he departs Leinster to join his native Argentina on Michael Cheika’s coaching ticket and that starts with another meeting this Saturday against old foes Munster.

Speaking on the day Leinster announced they would be losing their attack coach to the Pumas this summer, Contepomi said discussions with his future boss and former head coach had been limited and added: “I have been occupied in very important matters here. So I don't want to drift my head when I haven't finished the job here.” 

After victories over Leicester Tigers and Toulouse on successive weekends that sets up a Heineken Champions Cup final against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle in Marseille 12 days from now, the Argentine former fly-half described playing Munster as the best possible preparation for the European decider.

The interprovincial rivals meet at Aviva Stadium this Saturday in the final United Rugby Championship round before next month’s play-offs.

Being described thus a matter of days after Leinster captain Johnny Sexton suggested Munster had helped to soften up Toulouse ahead of their impressive semi-final victory last Saturday may grind a few gears in the southern province ahead of a derby that clearly means significantly more to Johann van Graan’s side than a pre-final rehearsal. 

Munster need to win be sure of a home play-off draw while Leinster are already home and hosed in that regard having been assured of top seeding before the final weekend’s regular-season action.

Yet Contepomi believes Leinster will be facing a very different beast from the one they faced in Limerick on April 2 when they left Thomond Park with a comprehensive 34-17 win that extended their winning run in league games over their biggest historical rivals to seven games.

Munster, he said, were 'in many ways' a different prospect now than they were seven weeks ago.

“They've been playing some very good rugby. They've been playing more open rugby. Maybe it's the weather but definitely you can see they have some brilliant individual players and as a team they are gelling even more.

“Maybe they are even more settled now, knowing what's going on or seeing the future with who is coaching next year, understanding that some coaches are leaving and that they want to leave a legacy or leave something behind. So there are probably loads of things that have clicked, and they are on the right path.

“Even the game they ended up losing against Toulouse (after extra time and a penalty shootout), realistically they didn't lose that game. They could have easily won that.

“I definitely think that they are in very good form. They have (had) one more week (than Leinster) to prepare for this game, it's a very important game for them, for us as well.

“I'm looking forward to it… I think it will be a brilliant occasion for us. Leinster and Munster playing in the Aviva with so many fans, some (Leinster) players that probably didn't play that much in the last two weeks might have an opportunity, and that's great for them.

"So for us it couldn't be better preparation for what's coming further down the line, playing against Munster in the last game of the regular season. It's the best game we could have asked for.” 

Contepomi confirmed that at least two changes would be enforced with tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong and wing James Lowe definitely ruled out of contention after picking up knocks last Saturday but added: “I would feel confident that they would both be fit to play next week.” 

A media conference with Contepomi talking extensively about Cheika and O’Gara could have come from a dozen or so years ago when the former was his Leinster boss and the latter his adversary in a series of running battles between the out-halves.

There will be another run-in when Leinster lock horns with La Rochelle but while he accepts that going up against O’Gara remains a point of interest he said: “For me it’s not about Ronan O’Gara or myself. It’s Leinster against La Rochelle.

“That’s the perception, even the press sometimes used to put it like O’Gara-Contepomi when it was Munster-Leinster or Argentina-Ireland but for me it was important that there were two teams coming together and it’s the teams that matter most.

“Rog is a great coach. He’s doing a great career and I think he’s brought La Rochelle to a very good point. He has his tactics and his strategies and his philosophy and we have ours here. 

"On that day it will be us trying to impose our philosophy over theirs and that’s a full stop. It’s not about O’Gara against Leinster because he played in Munster. It’s nothing to do with that.

“Those are the stories people want to hear but for us it’s more like what do we need to do to get that fifth star on our jersey.”

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