Thursday 5 December 2019

Contepomi: It doesn't matter who plays, Leinster have an identity

Felipe Contepomi answers questions during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Headquarters in UCD, Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Felipe Contepomi answers questions during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Headquarters in UCD, Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

It is easy to take Leinster's ability to fight on two fronts for granted, yet there was something about last Saturday's win in Glasgow that stood out from the pack.

Despite providing the majority of players to Ireland's World Cup effort, Leo Cullen's men have yet to suffer a defeat this season.

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Their schedule is relentless, with the trip to Scotland coming in between four rounds of Europe, with three interprovincial derbies on the way over the festive period and the last two pool games scheduled in January.

So, the coach made 15 changes to his team, resting all of his front-liners without waving a white flag. Despite the new personnel, they prevailed. Tackle-machine Will Connors was man of the match, No 8 Caelan Doris impressed, Hugo Keenan was in classy form at full-back and Ross Byrne was excellent at out-half.

And yet, the return of the Heineken Champions Cup means many of those who starred at Scotstoun will be relegated to Energia All-Ireland League action this weekend and will have to wait until the pre-Christmas clash with Ulster - when the Ireland players are in camp - to stake a claim.

With a relatively light injury load and a squad full of viable options, Cullen and his coaches have a job on their hands to keep all of these young guns happy.

This week's trip to Franklin's Gardens is a daunting one against an in-form Northampton Saints team and the experience of his internationals will be key.

But, Leinster have gained so much from trusting their form players, having already integrated Rónan Kelleher and Max Deegan successfully, and must be tempted to promote some of the other coming men.

"We're lucky and wealthy in terms of how tough the competition is within the squad," Felipe Contepomi said. "For us it is not a question of just setting up a team, we want to put the best and the strongest team on the pitch every weekend. That's what we are trying to do.

"There are some guys and they are coming in fresh, you see them in training and they are eager to go out and play a game.

"You select them and they perform and then you have some other guys that didn't play and they are fresh (and eager) - that's how rotation goes.

"You can make that rotation. We are lucky that we have a lot of competition for every place."

Although they made a winning start to their Champions Cup campaign, Leinster's A-listers have yet to fully gel as they continue to mix the internationals with those who were not in Japan.

In their absence, the rest of the squad built a unit capable of winning home and away.

"It's looking to various aspects, not just one, in each position. Fitness-wise, skill-wise, mentality-wise, how every player is," Contepomi said.

"We try to fit in the best player to make the job for that game and that we do it with every position. Then you get the best, or we try to get the best team out there.

"That's our aim. It's hard, it's not easy, but the way the guys got the victory in Lyon - how I see it - and the way they got it in Glasgow were similar ways. Really good, strong defensive performances and taking the opportunities when we have them and a lot of character.

"What we try to do with training and the way we train is to make sure it's not about names who are in there, it's about Leinster. That's the big name - it's Leinster always being represented with the best players we can. It doesn't matter who plays, Leinster have an identity and the way we want to play."


Former Leinster, Wales and Ireland U-20s coach Mike Ruddock is set to be appointed Ospreys head coach on a short-term contract and will leave his position as Lansdowne head coach, with Mark McHugh taking over on an interim basis.

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