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Saturday 25 January 2020

Contepomi still sees Munster derby as biggest

Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi enjoyed many a fiery battle against Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi enjoyed many a fiery battle against Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

Munster v Leinster has a flavour all of its own. It always has; always will.

"As a rugby player, it is one of those atmospheres that is great to play in," said Leinster assistant Felipe Contepomi.

"Being able to be part of a Leinster-Munster game, it is one of the biggest derbies in world rugby - by far.

"I have been in some other big derbies, like Stade (Francais)-Racing (92), and I don't know if they are the same."

The influence of the Welfare Player Programme has encroached to prevent key men from performing in the most popular Inter-provincial on the Christmas calendar.

In addition, Josh van der Flier is going through return-to-play protocols from a bang against Ulster and it could come a week too soon for Joe Tomane's hamstring.

Leinster have out-half Ross Byrne and second-row Ross Molony available from injury, while centre Tommy O'Brien has shaken off a knock.

The IRFU understandably struck a deal with the provinces to allow Ireland's World Cup crew two weeks off over Christmas.

There is one man outside the reach of the agreement, due to injury, who could put a hole in Leinster's unbeaten start to the season.

"If you ask me about Joey Carbery he is a great footballer. Whatever team he plays in would be delighted to have a type of player like him," said Contepomi.

"He could definitely be a threat. But, it is just one more piece of the puzzle. It is not the whole thing.

"Munster won't change the way they play because of the way Joey does or doesn't play.

"We focus on ourselves first and then scout Munster as a team and not just as individual players."

There was once a time when Munster v Leinster meant everything at this time of the year.

The spice of Seán O'Brien against Denis Leamy and the spite exchanged between Contepomi and Ronan O'Gara pushed a malevolent undercurrent that could rise to the surface at any time.

Contepomi played in the era of the 'Lunsters', those supporters from Leinster outside the pale, who felt a stronger connection to the earthiness of Mick Galwey and John Hayes than to the polish of Victor Costello and Denis Hickie.

Contepomi was central to many of the molten moments that raised the temperature of the occasion.

He wasn't called 'Latino Heat' for nothing.

The natural animosity showed signs of fading out of the rivalry until Jonathan Sexton lost his cool in Thomond Park last December.

And it wasn't one of those wily old foxes in Red that contributed to the combustible incident.

Munster youngblood Fineen Wychlerly tore into Ireland's magic man, the recently anointed World Player of the Year, with a lack of respect for reputation that endeared the forward to the hostile home crowd.

It was not the names on the shirts that drove the raucous atmosphere that evening, but the actions of those who wore them.

The Argentinean refused to take the bait on how Munster's new coaches Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree have impacted the province.

"Munster by themselves have traditionally been very strong anyway," said Contepomi.

"It is not like this is someone who came and suddenly they have a new team.

"We know historically how they play and what it takes to go there and get a result.

"We have the experience of last year in Thomond so we are expecting a very big challenge."

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