Departing Contepomi feels Leinster made him a better coach

I always will be grateful for Leinster and Cullen, says Argentinian as he heads home

Leinster assistant coach Felipe Contepomi: ‘My experience here in Leinster has been unbelievable.’ Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

The lure of working for his native Argentina side as an assistant to Michael Cheika after the end of this season has understandably proved too hard for him to resist, and Felipe Contepomi believes he is a better coach for having worked with Leinster for the last four seasons.

"I think in every way," he said. "My experience here in Leinster has been unbelievable. I always say I am a lucky man in my whole career, my whole life until now. I have been lucky to play in some of the best teams in Europe, with some of the best players.

"And now coming to Leinster, I always will be grateful for Leinster and Leo Cullen to give me the opportunity to work with so many great people. I have learned so much from every single one of them. And especially from the coaches like Stuart [Lancaster], Leo [Cullen], Robin [McBryde], John [Fogarty], Hugh [Hogan], Denis [Leamy]. I have learned from every single one. Emmett Farrell with his kicking strategy.

“It made me a better coach and not just rugby wise. It helped me in terms of leadership and teaching, what people call the soft skills, learning how to deal with certain situations, how to keep everyone engaged, how to manage an environment that is so rich and healthy here.


“Having so many good players and trying to keep them engaged, you learn from everyone. So I’d like to think after four years I am a better coach than when I started here obviously.”

In addition to his four seasons as backs coach, Contepomi had a celebrated six seasons as an outhalf cum inside centre with the province. Although he was ruled out of the 2009 Heineken Champions Cup final with the leg injury he suffered in the semi-final win over Munster, he started in seven of Leinster's games in that breakthrough success and, similarly, he would love his return as a coach to coincide with a fifth trophy.

“It’s not for me signing off with a Champions Cup, it is about Leinster having that fifth star on their jersey. It is all about Leinster, all about the team, what this team represents for the people in this environment.

"When I left as a player, I wanted to try to make it for every single time Leinster make the final. I did it in 2011 and 2012 as a spectator. I couldn't do it in 2018 as I was working in Uruguay. And then I was lucky in 2019 to make it although not lucky because we lost, when I was back as a coach.

“Hopefully I will back next year and the year after following Leinster, you know. For me, the fifth star is more important than whenever it happens. If it happens in 12 days it would be much better, it would be great.”

Looking ahead to that final, Contepomi said Leinster were "not overly concerned" about Tadhg Furlong (ankle) and James Lowe (shin), describing them as "minor" injuries.

Prior to that, Leinster host Munster at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday (kick-off 7.15pm) and Contepomi believes their opponents are playing better "in many ways" compared with their last meeting six weeks ago when Leinster won at Thomond Park.

“They’ve been playing more open rugby, maybe it’s the weather, but definitely you can see they have some brilliant individual players and as a team they are gelling even more.

“Maybe they are even more settled now, knowing what’s going on or seeing the future with who is coaching next year, understanding that some coaches are leaving and that they want to leave a legacy or leave something behind. So there are probably loads of things that have clicked, and they are on the right path.

Even the game they ended up losing against Toulouse, realistically they didn't lose that game. They could have easily won that. I definitely think that they are in very good form. They have one more week to prepare for this game, it's a very important game for them, for us as well.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a brilliant occasion for us. Leinster and Munster playing in the Aviva with so many fans, some players that probably didn’t play that much in the last two weeks might have an opportunity, and that’s great for them.

“So for us it couldn’t be better preparation for what’s coming further down the line, playing against Munster in the last game of the regular season. It’s the best game we could have asked for.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times