Felipe Contepomi says Leinster facing some ‘tough calls’ for trip to Northampton
Young players putting more and more pressure on established names in Cullen’s squad
Felipe Contepomi: “We know the challenge we’re heading into. I think it’s the in-form team of the Premiership, one of the most competitive leagues in Europe and the world.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
It’s important to ensure that the plates never stop spinning – something that will strike a chord with the Leinster coaching team as they juggle the twin demands of preparing teams for both the Guinness Pro14 and the Heineken Champions Cup on successive weekends.
A young Leinster team went to Glasgow and came home with the match points following a superb 23-10 victory. On Saturday an appreciably different group of players will try and emulate that achievement when they travel to Franklin’s Gardens to take on the English Premiership leaders, Northampton Saints, in the first of back-to-back matches between the clubs.
They are pivotal tussles in terms of the outcome of the pool, both clubs unbeaten after two matches. Leinster’s win at Scotstoun was a potentially tricky assignment against a Glasgow team that was a fuller approximation of their first choice side but, for the seventh match in succession in the league, the Irish province produced a winning performance.
The net benefit is momentum and confidence which will permeate the training sessions this week. Leinster backs’ coach Felipe Contepomi acknowledged that there would be some “tough calls” when it came to the selection for the weekend but that there is really no downside for the coaching group when the quality is maintained as the jersey is passed around.
He explained: “There are many guys who put on the jersey in the first period of the season and they put up their hands while the Irish guys were away. They are putting more and more pressure on. It’s a good atmosphere, a good environment for the players to keep pushing. That competitiveness inside the group is what actually gives the edge for us to go and train harder and harder and hopefully perform better and better.”
The Argentine argued that while the perception outside the environment might have been that Leinster sent a second-string team to Glasgow, thereby resting many of the ‘front-liners’ for the Saints match, the reality is that the coaching group is focused on managing the playing resources in such a way that players remain fresh and that form and application in training is recognised in selection.
He said: “The way we see it is that we had a block of games and we want to put out the best Leinster team for every game. Sometimes it is not about names but who is in better shape and who is performing better to be best able to do the job for the team for a particular game. We are lucky and wealthy [in playing resources] in terms of how tough the competition is within the squad and that rotation [is possible] without a dent in performance [levels].”
While it would be a stretch to suggest that the Saints are a mirror image of Leinster in their attitude to promoting young players, there is a similarity as over the past couple of seasons, and in particular under head coach Chris Boyd, Northampton have brought through a significant number of academy players without it affecting results adversely. They have won four out of five games in the Premiership, sitting on top of the table, and both games in Europe.
Contepomi said: “It is interesting the amount of young players coming through the Northampton Academy, and similar to what we have here, it gives them a bit of an edge in terms of they want to play for that team.”
He also referenced the quality of some of their foreign imports that balances nicely with the home-gown effect.
Asked whether Leinster were spending a little bit too much time defending rather than showing off their attacking prowess in recent matches, he responded: “I wouldn’t be worried if we can defend the way the we did in the last two games, but sometimes the games flow like that and you need to be able to win games defending and scrapping them out.
“Our objective is definitely to dominate and have more possession and territory and try to set ourselves up to play a really good rugby style. Sometimes, the games are not like that, especially at this time of the year with the conditions that are hard to play in,” a reference to a heavy pitch and rain in the win over Lyon.
He continued: “You need to learn to win the games in a tough way. I wouldn’t be worried; we just need to get better at both ends of the game, defence and attack. Every game is different.
“We know the challenge we’re heading into. I think it’s the in-form team of the Premiership, one of the most competitive leagues in Europe and the world. We know they’re in form, had a great start to the season and they’re playing good rugby.”