Contepomi not reading too much into poor show from Pro 14 sides in Europe

Leinster backs coach believes season that ‘never stopped’ just one of the reasons behind it

Ulster’s Michael Lowry makes a break to score a try during the European Challenge Cup round of 16 game against Harlequins at the  Twickenham Stoop on Sunday night. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ulster’s Michael Lowry makes a break to score a try during the European Challenge Cup round of 16 game against Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday night. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

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That was not a vintage weekend for the Guinness Pro 14 in Europe. In fact, it was quite probably the most chastening of all, with nine losers out of the 11 teams who went on to the pitch.

It wasn’t just the tally of the defeats, more the nature of them, particularly seeing Edinburgh and Scarlets shipping half centuries against Racing and Sale. The Scarlets were at home and were close to the same line-up which had deservedly beaten Bath at the Rec in round one, while Sale had progressed despite losing both pool games against Toulon and Edinburgh.

The only winners were Leinster, off the pitch, Benetton – who beat an Agen side that has managed just two losing bonus points in 20 Top 14 matches this season, and Ulster, who put an inexperienced, second-string Harlequins to the sword.

Given Harlequins are three-times champions in the Challenge Cup, that tells us much about that competition but that’s a separate matter to the under-performance of the Pro 14 teams, with only Leinster flying the flag in the Champions Cup. Yet as someone who played in the Premiership, Pro14 and Top 14, the Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi maintains last weekend was more of a snapshot in history than a major concern.

“Like maybe one year ago, or two, we had three or four teams in the Pro 14 playing in the final stages of the Champions Cup,” Contepomi pointed out. Indeed, Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Edinburgh and Glasgow all reached the quarter-finals only two seasons ago.

“I think there are loads of things to put into perspective. It’s a very weird year. This is only my opinion and my analysis and it may be completely wrong, but for the Pro 14, we never stopped, put it that way.

“The Top 14 in France, they said ‘no relegation, shake hands and we’ll see you in September’, and go with a new tournament. The qualification into the final stages of the Champions Cup has been different, like some games called off, and the French teams are very good in the final stages but they find it very hard to qualify,” added Contepomi, noting how French sides develop less importance on achieving losing bonus points in the Top 14, which can be critical in qualifying from the European pool stages.

“This time around they didn’t have that sort of mathematics. They didn’t have to do that, because there was some teams that had just lost two games and had a bonus point and they qualified for the last 16,” added Contepomi.

“The French teams are superpower teams. If you have to turn them around for one game, on one day, it is hard to beat them, especially when they are good sides.

“The Premiership, without relegation, you saw Exeter: they rested everyone the weekend before. They prepare them just for last weekend against Lyon. Lyon played a massive game against Toulon the weekend before, so you can see different aspects. It doesn’t make it a normal season, so I wouldn’t read too much into it in terms of the Pro 14.

“The Pro 14 is a great competition, more so now that the South African teams will be added and will bring another way of playing to the game. I tell you, I played in all three competitions – a long time ago – but one thing that happens is many teams play the same way in Top 14; in the Premiership similar.

“In Pro 14 you have so many different styles of rugby: Italian teams, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and now South African. As a coach you keep thinking about how to play against different defences, different rugby, so it is a great competition.”

“I wouldn’t read too much into it. That’s my view.”

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