Contepomi says Toulouse experience will steel Leinster for trip to Lyon
Cullen’s side braced for a tough assignment against French Top 14 leaders
Players clash on the pitch late in the European Champions Cup clash between Northampton Saints and Lyon at Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton. Photograph Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty
Leinster will draw on the memories of their Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse in round two of last season’s tournament in a bid to avoid a similar outcome when they travel to Lyon on Saturday.
It’s been a theme of the Irish province’s pre-match discussion and preparation this week and something on which backs’ coach Felipe Contepomi elaborated when discussing the game against the French Top 14 leaders.
“It [Toulouse] was a huge, huge lesson and a huge experience for everyone that was involved for two reasons. First, because we were in a similar situation coming off a win [they beat Wasps 52-3] getting five points in the first round at home and [then] going to play an in-form French team. It’s a good lesson. I’ll tell you on Monday if we’ve learned from it.”
Having played with Toulon during his career, Contepomi has a keen appreciation of the expectations and mindset associated with French clubs defending their turf.
“It’s a French mentality, the way they feel; not only the crowd but the players and the way they’re expected to perform in front of their home people.
“That’s what you have to avoid, giving them that belief and momentum that can change the game. It is 80 minutes of trying not to let their crowd get behind them. It happens here when we play in the RDS. It’s massive for us and the guys, they feel it.”
There is a familiar face in the Lyon management team, former French international scrumhalf Pierre Mignoni, Lyon’s head coach, but also someone with whom Contepomi played at Toulon.
Born in the French town, he played for Toulon during two separate spells and was an assistant coach during their three European triumphs, before moving to Lyon.
Last summer both Bernard Laporte and new head coach Fabien Galthie approached him about taking up a role with the French national side but he declined, saying that he wanted to see out a project he started with Lyon dating back to when they were a Pro D2 club.
Contepomi isn’t surprised by the success the 42-year-old Mignoni, capped 28-times at scrumhalf by France, has enjoyed since embracing the coaching side of the sport. The Argentine explained: “I know him quite well. He has always been very studious of the game. My opinion is that he’s got a great rugby philosophy.
“He is a hard worker and you could see he was always going to be a coach, a good one. He was one of those players, coaching when he was playing. He is pragmatic but at the same time keen on taking risk, having that offensive play, wide play, trying to impose [his team’s] rhythm. You could see it in how he used to play. He was one of those nines that would play with a lot of rhythm.”
There’s no doubt Mignoni would have been influenced by the then Clermont Auvergne backs’ coach, Joe Schmidt, whom he played under for a couple of seasons. Contepomi declared: “If you asked me for a similarity [in style and substance] I would put it more towards the Clermont team that Pierre was involved with than Toulon.
“Toulon was up and down and it was a change of personnel every year; a few come and go. In Lyon he has been getting his personnel for the last three or four years at least, getting some players and getting involved in the culture they want to develop. He has been developing something bigger that is improving steadily and every year getting better.
“That is why they are where they are. It is not like they came from the blue. They have been getting better in the last few years and improving inside in their domestic league and now I know they want to make that step in Europe. ”
Lyon trailed 22-0 at half-time to the Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend but the French club demonstrated their mettle in coming back in the second half and might have even left with a bonus point before going down 25-14. Contepomi rejected the notion Lyon were apathetic to the outcome initially.
“If a French team is disinterested they will concede 50 points. I would say that they were caught out, surprised by the intensity of a European game. But they came back out from the dressing room, changed [the way they set up] and could even have got even closer [on the scoreboard].
“I wouldn’t say that they were disinterested. I know a French team that is disinterested away from home. It’s a different thing. I would say the other way around. They lost three players in the first half and they still wanted to fight for the game. It didn’t look like a normal French team away from home.”