Monday 24 June 2019

'Leinster's systems are unbelievable' - Felipe Contepomi

Contepomi eager to make his mark at the place he once called home

Backs coach Felipe Contepomi says Leinster have moved forward since his time as a player. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Backs coach Felipe Contepomi says Leinster have moved forward since his time as a player. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Sitting in Donnybrook Stadium, the lengths that Leinster have come since Felipe Contepomi first arrived in Dublin become crystallised for the Argentinian.

Some of the familiar faces of old remain, while so too do the core values, but that's largely where it stops.

Back in 2003 when Leinster signed Contepomi, the winds of change were already prevalent, yet the amount of work that has been done both on and off the pitch since then has propelled the province to dizzy new heights.

"Definitely a lot of things changed when I was a player here," Contepomi admits.

"It's been transforming probably since (Michael) Cheika arrived. Moving from Donnybrook to the RDS - you see Donnybrook was 4,000 or 5,000 people to 19,000 at the RDS.

"Training at a Portakabin and now you go to this big High Performance Centre in UCD. So it's been moving forward all of the time.

"I think people and you journalists judge things by results but behind the results, there is a pathway and I think that Leinster has always done the hard pathway of moving forward steadily and convincingly.

Wealthy

"With Joe (Schmidt) in 2011 and 2012, two Heineken Cups, and then another one, but I think it's more than that, to see how many players are coming through the system and through the club. It's unbelievable.

"I think that's the wealthy part of the club, not just the Heineken Cups. That's the ultimate results that everyone sees but it's all that is beneath which has really developed."

Leinster have come a long way since Contepomi compared the club's gym to a World War Two shelter, yet he is mindful of the fact that: "Having the best facilities doesn't make you a better player or club.

"If you don't have that hard work and don't work hard every day to get better you can have the best facilities and it won't happen. But definitely having good facilities helps.

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"I always say that we human beings, we adapt to our environment. I have seen Argentinian people dropping a paper in Buenos Aires and when they arrive in London they don't drop it. The same guy, why? Because no-one beside him drops it.

"In Buenos Aires, everyone drops the paper on the floor so you adapt to your environment.

"If you have a better environment definitely you will have better chances to get into your potential but the environment is done by infrastructure, culture and the people. The people drive that environment. It's many things that make you a better player."

Leinster supporters knew what to expect from Contepomi as a player, and what he will bring to the party as backs coach adds another level of intrigue to a coaching ticket determined not to stand still.

Having spent the last three years coaching at home in Argentina, the former out-half felt it was time to look for a new challenge, and just as they did 15 years ago, the stars suddenly aligned when Leinster were looking for a replacement for Girvan Dempsey.

"We'll see if it's a good destiny or not, but I'm sure it is," the 40-year old smiles.

"Things maybe happen for a reason and you don't have the reason why at the moment but you'll find it in a few years. But I am really glad it happened.

"Nothing is easy in life. I think it's a great challenge but it's one of those challenges I find really interesting.

"Getting into a team which just won two cups, you just have to keep working harder to get better because you are now the team which everyone wants to beat because you are the best in Europe and the best in the PRO14.

"You need to get better in every game so you keep progressing because teams will get better.

"Hopefully I can bring something they don't have but for me it's about hard work and trying to be creative, innovative and progressive, not just to be in the comfort zone, that because it worked last year, it will work next year.

"You need to keep changing and getting something new and trying to be creative. For me, it's about hard work. You need a bit of luck but the harder you work the more you have luck on your side."

Contepomi has kept in touch with plenty of his former Leinster team-mates, including Johnny Sexton, and he is now relishing the chance to work with the new skipper as a coach.

"He's one of those players that doesn't come around that often," Contepomi adds.

"So the time we have him, we need to enjoy him and appreciate him.

"Everyone speaks about (Leo) Messi, but when you talk to a friend or colleague of Messi, they say he's the first one to arrive, the last to leave. So you have that talent but you have to back it up with hard work, and that's Johnny.

"He's (Sexton) talented, but definitely when you see the way he's been in his career, how he behaves, that's what made him become a different player."

Irish Independent

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