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Contepomi Los Pumas' Driving Force

 Aug 26,2011
Written by: Delon Cheketri
 

Felipe Contepomi is 34 now, playing in his fourth and probably last World Cup, but he remains the driving force for Argentina as they attempt to emulate their success of four years ago when they reached the semi-finals.

Contepomi is a player of genuine world class, one Puma who would have been a nailed-on certainty to be at this World Cup no matter what his nationality.

Usually to be found at flyhalf, he is equally likely to be found at inside centre if Juan Martin Hernandez is fully fit and firing off both knees.

He has done it all in professional rugby - over 70 Tests for the Pumas, a European Cup winner with Irish province Leinster - and yet Contepomi gives the impression that he would be equally happy if there was no money in the game and that the amateur rules of pre-1995 were still in place.

For all that he has achieved at the top level he appears just as proud of having turned out in the black and white stripes of the Barbarians and - a real throwback to amateurism - for Mickey Steele Bodger's XV.

"I think the key to enjoying any job is satisfaction," he said in an interview some years ago while he was at Leinster.

"Satisfaction in how you play is important, yes, but in rugby it’s about the players you play with and the friends you train and play alongside."

Gonzalo Quesada, who played alongside the young Contepomi when he was just coming into the side in the 1999 World Cup, believes that that 'family' philosophy of the current Argentine captain is vital for the team.

"His voice is very important for the group because he still embodies an amateur spirit," Quesada told AFP.

"He is a pro, of course, but he still lives and speaks and approaches the game like an amateur. He is a great example for all of the guys. The coach relies on him to make sure the group is strong.

"The most interesting thing is that he has been able to stay at such a high level all these years while studying medecine. You have to admire his mental strength."

Contepomi produced some perfect planning, leaving Bristol to play for Leinster in 2003, at the same time going to Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin to complete his studies.

He turned out for the province 116 times, a major factor in their 2009 European Cup triumph.

Unfortunately a knee injury in the semi-final win over Munster ruled him out of the final win against Leicester and he then headed to the south of France to enjoy the good life in Toulon.

After two seasons spent mainly playing back-up to Jonny Wilkinson - and nursing that knee back to health - he has now moved to Stade Francais in Paris to join up again with Michael Cheika who had been his coach at Leinster.

"Felipe is one of the best backs ever to wear the Argentina jersey," says Quesada. "He is just as good playing at 10 or 12. He has a good all-round game, his organisation is superb. He is up there with the best."

After the heroics of four years ago, when Contepomi was again a key factor, the onus now is on the Pumas to maintain that standard, and that means at the very least coming through a group which contains England, Scotland, Georgia and Romania.

"I’m convinced if we prepare in an excellent way we could even beat England, which is not to say we are better than them or Scotland," said Contepomi during the team's preparations.

"Both countries are above us in the rankings, but that does not mean the Pumas won’t qualify for the quarter-finals."

With Contepomi pulling the strings, nobody should bet against the Pumas going even further than that.

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