Felipe Contepomi: “That Leinster-Munster rivalry for me is a rivalry between brothers”

Felipe Contepomi is still lauded as one of the finest players in Leinster’s history after spending six years with the province from 2003. ‘The Good Doctor’ practised medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin during much of his spell at Leinster, where he assisted in the emergence of a young Johnny Sexton and enjoyed a long-running rivalry with Ronan O’Gara...

Q: So, who do you think will come out on top this weekend – and can Ireland dream of winning the World Cup?

“I think it is too much to speak about winning it yet! They are only in the quarter-finals and they have a long way to go. But it will be a massive game. Argentina have developed quite well over the last few years while Ireland are the best team in the northern hemisphere and they have proved that in the past two Six Nations. They are proving it again in this World Cup. So it will be an exciting game.”

Q: Have you been impressed by Argentina so far?

“Yes. They are a young team with many players in their first World Cup. But having said that they have quite a bit of experience too. They have been in the Rugby Championship for four years now and have been playing the best three teams in the world – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – home and away each year. That can only make you better. Look at the top points scorers after the Pool Stages – Argentina are top and then you have the other southern hemisphere teams. So the four of them together have scored more points than anyone, which is a trend when you see them play. It’s how they play rugby in the southern hemisphere. They play dynamic, expansive rugby and that made a huge impact in Argentina and helped them a lot.”

Q: You helped bring Johnny Sexton through at Leinster. Do you still keep in touch and how much more is there to come from him?

“There is no limit for what he can reach in rugby. He is developing and making himself better every time he wears the Irish jersey. There is a lot more to come from him, I am sure. And I keep in touch with Johnny. Every now and again I send him a text message. For me, on the outside of the pitch now, he is one of the players I enjoy watching the most.”

Q: Johnny famously came into his own when replacing you in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final. Did it seem similar when Ian Madigan replaced him against France last weekend?

“It could be the same. I don’t like comparisons though. Everyone writes their own history and it is too much to put on Ian – saying that he will have the same story as Johnny Sexton. Everyone writes their own story and in terms of Johnny’s story, I know him well and I never doubted that on that day he would come on and do the job. I knew his personality and that was one of the biggest assets he had. Apart from being a great kicker, a great playmaker and having a good defence, his biggest asset is his mind.”

Q: Looking back at that time, do you have fond memories of your time with Leinster?

“That time was when I played my best rugby, for Leinster and the Pumas. And rugby is all about what it leaves you with after you have finished as a player; the biggest asset is your friends and the most friends I have are in Ireland. For me it was a great experience.”

Q: And was the rivalry with Munster as personal as people tried to make out?

“That Leinster-Munster rivalry for me is a rivalry between brothers. It’s great for Irish rugby as it gives you that identity. Munster has always been the big example of identity, but after a few years I think Leinster have that identity. Now you can say that Leinster players are proud of being Leinster players in the same way Munster players are proud of being Munster players.”

Q: But how about your run-ins with Ronan O’Gara?

“Obviously when we were players it was a great topic for journalists to make the rivalry all about us. It was Leinster against Munster, Argentinian against Irishman, a fly-half that maybe runs a bit more, one that kicks a bit more. So you had everything to make a great article every time we played each other! Having said that I hugely respect him as a player. He is one of those great players in Irish rugby history and he will be remembered for ever. He did a lot, not just for Irish rugby but Munster as well.”

Q: But there was a bit of sledging between you though, wasn’t there?

“Yes, but ROG is the type of guy that wouldn’t be short of a few words on the pitch! When we played Munster he would chat like that to his Irish team-mates as well. I never took it personally. It was always about Leinster-Munster rather than myself and him.

Q: So what are you up to now?

“I have a medical practice in Buenos Aires with my Dad. This year I have also done a bit of coaching with Argentina XV (part of the Argentine national side) and I am doing some media with ESPN during the World Cup too.”

Q: Do you still enjoy the medicine or do you think you’ll go fully into coaching?

“I am revalidating my medical qualifications down there. It is my passion as rugby is my passion. I am lucky to have the opportunities and I am trying to work out what suits me better and what I enjoy more. The question for many is what do you do after rugby? Every retired player has been through that, and has tried to find something that gives you that same passion. But if coaching becomes a bit more serious you have to relegate medicine, so I am just trying to find my way. It is about opportunity. You have to be prepared when life gives you an opportunity.

“I never dreamed of being a professional rugby player, but I got that opportunity.

“I was only prepared because of how hard I trained in Argentina. It’s the same with both medicine and coaching. This year I gave up playing for my club and then I was invited to take on Argentina XV in a small schedule through the year. I did it, and enjoyed it. You have to see what opportunities there are.”

Q: Finally, what is your prediction for Ireland-Argentina?

“They are two good teams and it’s a very even game. My heart is with Argentina, my head is 50-50.”

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