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‘It’s not about Ronan O’Gara because he played for Munster’ – Felipe Contepomi


Leinster coach Felipe Contepomi speaks with Harry Byrne during Leinster training at Energia Park. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster coach Felipe Contepomi speaks with Harry Byrne during Leinster training at Energia Park. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster coach Felipe Contepomi speaks with Harry Byrne during Leinster training at Energia Park. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

To the casual eye, the Champions Cup renewal of rivalry between Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O’Gara hogs the headlines.

Yet the competition between O’Gara and another of his erstwhile sporting foes, Felipe Contepomi, is worthy of as much compelling attention.

While the infamous Croke Park image of 2009 unfairly misinterpreted the firm friendship of the former Irish internationals for years, there was at times a genuine tension between Contepomi and O’Gara in their playing days.

Still, it is highly unlikely that the Leinster assistant, who has confirmed his departure to take up a similar role with Argentina, might wish to toddle down from his perch in Marseille to bump shoulders GAA-style with the La Rochelle coach who has taken to prowling the touchline during games.

The respective coaches’ work begins this week as they plan for that significant occasion at the end of this month; in Contepomi’s eyes, a valedictory fifth star upon the Leinster jersey supersedes one-upmanship.

“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 and so on. 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 having 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 or he is from Munster. It’s nothing to do with that.

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“Those are the stories that 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.

“What we need to do, what we can control, how we can prepare the best we can ourselves to play against a very good side who are La Rochelle, who are in really good form and have been in this situation last year.

“They just lost in the final and they had beaten us last year so it’s more about us and how we can prepare the best we can.”

Sexton sat out that semi-final defeat in 2021, a decision he now regrets, as he chases a fifth European title.

Thirteen years ago, he propelled himself into the sporting spotlight by replacing an injured Contepomi in Croke Park, as his Leinster side swept away O’Gara’s Munster.

With Leinster entering a period of coaching uncertainty, some might envisage Sexton joining this gilded holy trinity of out-half geniuses in a training ground tracksuit after he retires next year.

“I don’t know,” Contepomi says equivocally. “Everyone is different and it depends on what motivates you to do what you do, what’s the purpose of why you do things.

“I don’t know, he might decide to go and coach.

“For the moment, if you ask me, thank God he is keeping on playing. He is playing brilliantly so, for the moment, I would say he has to focus and concentrate on being fit and playing the rugby he is playing.

“And then once he decides to retire, whenever he decides to retire, he’ll have loads of time to think about what he wants to do. If you ask me, rugby-wise, he has a rugby brain but that’s only a small part of coaching.

“For example, in my case in particular, I don’t have a background in teaching so I put a lot of effort, particularly in my last four years, into how to teach, how to transmit.

“I’ve been really researching and reading and that’s only another small part. Your leadership skills, your soft skills, there are so many other things that you need to learn.

“Definitely, if we talk rugby-wise, by itself, I actually love coming in because he always challenges me rugby-wise with questions.

“When I say something or do something or come with an idea, he challenges and then we discuss. It’s brilliant to have players like him,” concluded Contepomi.

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