Yep. Hard luck England. So close.
Posts made by Derm McCrum
RE: NH club rugby
Felipe Contemponi, a big fan favorite in the early noughties with Leinster, is returning as attack coach for the club from next season. Here’s a decent profile piece on him in the Times.
*Felipe Contepomi will bring fresh voice to Leinster upon his return
Just as one Leinster legend departs, another rejoins the fold. It turns out that the going of Isa Nacewa and the return of Felipe Contepomi are not entirely unrelated.
Leinster have known for at least 12 months that they’d have a new backs coach for the 2018/19 season. Girvan Dempsey, the previous incumbent, was offered only a one-year contract extension last season, which reflected a desire for change. The hope/expectation was that the role would be filled by outgoing club skipper Nacewa but his departure for New Zealand left a space to be filled.
Does this make Contepomi a second-choice appointment? Leinster would prefer to see him more as a fresh voice — a distinctive voice, too, once capable of cursing volubly in Spanish, especially at referees who failed to see things the same way as him.
Leinster supporters were surely delighted when news of Contepomi’s return broke, especially those able to recall the time he tormented Munster at the RDS, on New Year’s Eve, 2005. Leinster won easily that day and their Argentinian fly-half scored 25 points. After dotting down for one of his two tries, he ran towards a patch of red in the stand at the Anglesea Road end, cupping his hand behind his ear, taunting the away supporters.
“That wasn’t the only time he got up our noses that season,” remarked the late Anthony Foley. “He’s making a good living in Ireland. He should have minded his manners.”
This was a problem for some Munster folks back then. Ireland’s biggest rivals on the international stage in the noughties were Argentina, and here was one of the Pumas being accommodated in Ireland — not just as a pro rugby player but as a student in the Royal College of Surgeons.
But Contepomi gave more than he took from Irish rugby. Leinster were improved enormously by his presence. He boosted crowds, inspired youngsters like Johnny Sexton to become better, even if Sexton’s motivation was to take his place. He enhanced the sport here and can do so again, albeit in a different role.
Coaching wasn’t a role that we saw as being natural for him. There was something old-school, something Corinthian about him: the top-class athlete academically brilliant enough to maintain top grades while at the same time taking his team to the business end of the Heineken Cup. Those who played alongside him could see a potential coach in him, however. While David Knox was backs coach under Michael Cheika, the Argentinian was quick to understand the mechanics of every attacking play, and well-able to show the best running lines to Gordon D’Arcy or Brian O’Driscoll.
His understanding and experience of the world game is vast, and broader than Nacewa might have offered. Contepomi played in the English Premiership (for Bristol), the Top 14 (for Toulon and Stade Francais) and coached in Super Rugby, with the Jaguares. He also played at four World Cups, played in Pumas teams that won by playing territory as well as teams who played with width and pace.
Contepomi understands different attacking styles and also understands different positions, having featured as a centre as well as a fly-half. His official role — as coach in charge of set-piece attack, general attacking shape and kick strategy — does no justice to the value he offers the club in general, especially as a coach of individuals like the Byrne brothers, Ross and Harry, Ciaran Frawley, but also like Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and others. He knows a bit about place-kicking, too.
These youngsters are all old enough to remember him as one of the players who dragged Leinster out of the dark days of serial under-achievement, who played for his adopted province as though it meant more than a pay cheque.
Even on one of Contepomi’s bad days, Sexton managed to see something admirable in him. This was May 2006 at Lansdowne Road, the Heineken Cup semi-final when Munster won 30-6. “Denis Leamy succeeded in getting under his skin that day and he had a nightmare with his place-kicks,” Sexton wrote subsequently. “But I’ll always remember my dad — a massive Munster fan — making the point that Felipe had never given up.
“It was [Ronan] O’Gara’s day and Munster ended up miles ahead on the scoreboard. But Felipe never stopped trying things. He was in private battles all over the field till the end. And then afterwards, he came out and faced the cameras. He never hid, on or off the pitch. I respected that about him.”
He returns in a new role, a little less obvious, perhaps a little more soft-spoken, a lot thinner on top. However it’s hard to imagine Leinster won’t benefit from his presence once more.*