Brothers at arms
Contepomi: O'Driscoll is a pleasure to watch but a nightmare to play against
Published 27/11/2010 | 05:00
They have exchanged friendly texts all week, but this afternoon sporting hostility will take over.
Brian O'Driscoll and Felipe Contepomi, who for six years electrified Leinster's backline like few others in the world game, will be on opposite sides tomorrow.
Once brothers in arms, now sporting enemies, they will captain their respective countries with a fervour rarely matched in rugby. It may well be the last time Contepomi and O'Driscoll share the same green sward.
"As a player, he's one of those players who only comes around every 100 years," says the 33-year-old Puma veteran, who, alongside O'Driscoll, propelled Leinster to so many thrilling exploits at home and abroad.
"He has been the best in his position for 10 years and he's still the best, so for me it has been a pleasure to play with him, a pleasure to watch him. And it's a nightmare when you play against him.
"As a person, I've been lucky, you value perhaps the player even more when you play with him, he's a good person. Brian is really an example for everyone. He leads by example.
"He's a natural leader and outside the pitch he's one of those guys you can always give him a call and he'll be beside you, a really nice guy. I got on really well with him. We still keep in contact and I think he's a great person."
Still, one only has to recall O'Driscoll's goading following an ultimately fruitless score as Ireland slumped out of the last World Cup to tomorrow's opponents to realise that acrimony can swiftly supplant affability come kick-off.
Besides, while Contepomi may only view his bete noire Ronan O'Gara at the national anthems today, he also knows enough about Jonny Sexton to realise how difficult the task facing a side still winless in Dublin.
The Toulon playmaker took Sexton under his wing at Leinster and, while the Argentinian's sustained excellence almost forced his protégé to leave the club in frustration, opportunity ironically knocked with fateful consequences for Contepomi.
For it was in the Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park in May 2009 when Sexton announced his class, slotting home a difficult touchline penalty after injury prematurely ended Contepomi's game and Leinster career.
"Since I left, and even when I was in Leinster as well, he was developing really well," says Contepomi. "He's a great out-half and he's getting better and better every game.
Unfortunately, in that position, you need to play more games.
"The more you play a higher level, the better you will become and he's proving that -- every game he's getting better. He's obviously the natural out-half now for Ireland and I'm happy to see him there.
"I worked with him for four years and now, seeing that he's the No 10 for Ireland, it is a great honour and he should be proud and make Leinster proud.
"I haven't played against him, but I know what he's capable of. He's a very complete player, good in defence, very good in defence, good in attack, he attacks the ball, he likes to run, he has really good skills and he's a great kicker."
Contepomi would not be drawn on whether he feels Sexton should be unconditionally trusted with the pivot's role until the start of the World Cup next year; the Puma captain and Irish coach Declan Kidney worked in mutual suspicion of each other, but diplomacy suffuses his thoughts.
"It is not for me to make those decisions," he says. "But if you ask me if he is capable of that? Definitely. I think he's not only a potential player, he's already a world-class No 10.
"The more he plays in that position, the more games he has, the better he will become. Those are decisions for Declan Kidney to make, but, definitely, he can be kept there and play and get more comfortable at that level.
"He has shown already at every level he has played that he's a key player for any team he has been on."
As for the acute rivalry between the teams, Contepomi believes that the gory years may become a historical footnote given the fact that, mercifully, the sides have been separated at the next World Cup for the first time since 1995.
"I think our team has changed a lot. There are lots of young faces who didn't play in those games and weren't part of those World Cups, so they don't know about that rivalry.
"They just know they are going to play against one of the best teams in the world. It's not about Ireland itself or the rivalry. For us, it's about trying to improve as a team."