Contepomi still torn between two tribes
Published 15/05/2013 | 05:00
Spare a thought for Felipe Contepomi this Friday night, when the Amlin Cup final between Leinster and Stade Francais will see him torn between two affiliations.
The professional in him dictates that every fibre of his being will be rooting for Stade, but his sentimental ties to Leinster will play havoc with his emotions.
The Argentinian, of course, hopes his team win – "you defend your colours" – but if they are beaten, the fact that it will be to Leinster will soften the disappointment.
"Leinster are the only team I could bear losing to," he said.
Indeed, if Stade were not involved in the final, Contepomi would be in Dublin in any case to support his former team. That's what he did for their last two Heineken Cup finals and, he admits, he expects to return in a supporter's capacity in the future.
His experiences with Leinster have stayed with him and there's a real feeling of 'coming home' for the Argentinian this week. He has recovered from the cruciate ligament injury he sustained in November, but returned to active status too late to be registered as a player in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
He has only played in Dublin once since he left Leinster to join Toulon in 2009, when he kicked all Argentina's points in their 29-9 loss to Ireland in November 2010.
He's never faced his old club as a player and you get a sense he's somewhat relieved that when he returns to live in Argentina next month, he'll do so never having had to endure that particular experience. Leinster is where he believes he played his best rugby. It was, he admits, a huge wrench to leave in 2009. He did so only because he wanted to experience life in France – "there was an option to stay with Leinster. It was a really tough decision, but I was hungry for my next experience.
"I have followed and supported Leinster since," he said this week.
"I was in Twickenham and in the Millennium Stadium for their last two Heineken Cup finals supporting them.
"Leinster means a great deal to me. I don't regret leaving, because I have enjoyed experiencing life in France and playing in the Top 14.
"I keep in contact with a lot of the players I played with and am friends with Brian (O'Driscoll), Shane (Horgan), Gordon (D'Arcy) and Denis (Hickie). Leinster was a great time for me – as a player and as a person."
He will actually be in the middle of the action on Friday night as he will serve as a water carrier for Stade. There's a part of him that would love to stride around the pitch he graced so magnificently for six seasons once more before he leaves Europe, but he was grateful for the chance to return ... in any capacity.
"The RDS pitch holds a lot of great memories for me. There was no one match that I would single out as being extra special. The RDS is the home of Leinster and we played some magnificent rugby there. It is a real family environment for the players and the supporters. It will be emotional to be back there on Friday night, of course."
Contepomi is looking forward to mingling with friends after the game, but, for the 80 minutes, he'll be all about Stade and what he can do to help his side win a European title they desperately covet.
It's a mark of the man's pedigree that the thought of 'sledging' won't even enter his head – "it is not the gentlemanly thing to do" – and he doesn't think it would serve much purpose – "the only way to upset Leinster is to play better than them and that's a hard thing to do".
In fact such is the regard Contemponi has for Leinster, that he believes Stade will need to play their best game of the last couple of seasons if they are to be successful against a side he rates as one of the very best in Europe.
"We (Stade) will need to play the perfect game and will have to starve Leinster of possession. This is a huge task, because Leinster are one of the very best teams in European competition with some magnificent players.
"They have a perfect balance to their side with legends like Brian O'Driscoll and younger players like Ian Madigan. You look at them and you wonder where their weaknesses are. They don't appear to have any."
Contepomi will return to Argentina later this month and plans on continuing his international career with the Pumas for the rest of 2013. He will also open a Sports Medical Clinic and is planning on retiring from playing at the end of the year.
"That is the plan at the moment, but you never say never!"
"I joined Bristol in 1999 for what I thought would be one year in Europe to experience life as a professional player and I am still here 13 years later!
"I have thoroughly enjoyed myself over those years and dearly cherish my time with Leinster.
"I have been phenomenally lucky in my career that I have always been able to choose where to go and when to move on.
"Hopefully I can see this season off with a Stade Francais win ... but if that's not to be, it will make it a little easier that it's Leinster who are on the other side."