Felipe Contepomi urges Johnny Sexton not to replicate his 'fiery' approach and 'focus on playing'

Felipe Contempomi doesn’t believe Ireland have peaked too soon. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

You didn't have to be a lip-reader to decipher what Johnny Sexton was saying as he walked off the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.

It was another frustrating afternoon in which Ireland's inaccuracy problems spread through the team like a virus.

After the scrappy win that does keep Ireland's Six Nations hopes alive, Joe Schmidt stressed that Sexton "had just been hit three times off the ball", which was the cause for the out-half kicking a towel in anger as he headed to the bench.

In truth, it was probably one of a number of reasons why the current World Player of the Year saw red as he was annoyed about his own performance and the efforts of those around him.

Felipe Contepomi has been in the same situation many times himself and the wry smile that is etched across his face when he is asked what advice he would have for Sexton in how best to cope with that frustration, tells its own story.

"I'd say do what I say, not what I did," the former Argentina out-half laughs.

"Definitely, I was a very fiery guy as well. Sometimes I reacted not in the best way, maybe even fighting, and that takes you out of the game, so that's not the right decision.

"I understand his frustration in that sense because you can see him not reacting, talking to the ref, staying down - and then people ask why is he staying down? If he stands up and goes, it's 'he should have stayed down, it makes it look worse'.

"Definitely for a 10, and a play-maker, to receive cheap shots will always get you out of the game, or you'll get frustrated.

"I think with the TMO, we speak about high tackles and so on, we can also protect the players. If the TMO can see cheap shots and late tackles, it should be dealt with by the refs.

"I saw one (tackle) that was a bit late definitely, but it's the risk when you're a player who brings the ball to the line, you run those risks.

"Sometimes you have to take them, and do what it takes. You could say he's frustrated because of that.

"I think he just needs to focus on keeping playing. I'm sure he'll do that, he's a competitor, he wants to get better."

Like Sexton, Contepomi played the game on the edge, which meant that opposition teams regularly targeted the Pumas' playmaker.

Sexton and Conor Murray have come in for some criticism for their recent performances, partly because of the lofty standards that the world-class pair have set for themselves as well as the fact that they are the key men in this Ireland team.

The reality of the current malaise however, is that the problems against Italy ran far deeper than just the influential half-backs.

"The 9 and 10 are the conductors in every team, but it's not about them," Contepomi agrees.

"Everyone has to play their own part. Obviously when you make the calls it's like the quarterback in the NFL; when things go right and the team plays beautiful they give the credit to him, when the team doesn't play well, they get on his back.

"That's part of life. That's the nature of our sport. Nine and 10, normally when a team plays well they have a lot of credit, and when a team doesn't, you go on them.

"Sometimes we don't perceive the small details that make some plays work when they might not have anything to do with 9 and 10.

"Maybe it's the hooker holding his width and people don't perceive that. If you're watching on TV, maybe he is out of camera and you can't see it but that's what actually makes the move work, or the team work fluently.

"I understand people will ask about 9 and 10, but again, you have one of the best 9s and best 10s on the pitch, so that's maybe why you demand a bit (more)."

Argentina have generally perfected the art of peaking just in time for World Cups and while some will argue that Ireland peaked a year too soon, Contepomi isn't buying into that argument just yet.

"It was different until the last World Cup - we were totally disconnected until three months when we got together," Leinster's backs coach adds.

"It is an advantage to already be working together. You have a Six Nations and a lot of important rugby to play from here to the World Cup.

"Once they go into those two and a half months before a World Cup, the switch mode is Ireland and the World Cup, I'd say they will be OK."