Irish rugby will bid farewell to one of its most likeable and extraordinarily skilful practitioners in the RDS this evening when a hobbling Felipe Contepomi salutes his devoted Leinster supporters for the last time.
However, despite suffering a cruciate ligament injury in last Saturday’s semi-final success, his influence will not abate as he bids to see his side collect the Heineken Cup crown he has so richly craved.
“He’s already being incorporated into the coaching staff,” reveals Leinster coach Michael Cheika. “We knew we’d get him before his time was up! He’s helping us with video preparations; he’s very accurate with that stuff.”
The Argentina captain is due to join Toulon at the end of this season, but witnessing his colleagues win a Heineken Cup title, even if only from the sidelines, would be just reward for his influence on Leinster’s development into a European force.
Remarkably, Contepomi was virtually a bit player in the Leinster set-up during his early days, particularly under current Irish coach Declan Kidney, until the arrival of Cheika and his flamboyant backs coach David Knox unfurled all the talents of the playmaker par excellence.
Contepomi and the coaching set-up integrated seamlessly and the former Bristol player was the catalyst which allowed the Leinster galacticos, Hickie, Horgan, Driscoll, D’Arcy and Dempsey, to sparkle, while all the time pursuing a doctor’s degree.
The cruel irony is that Contepomi has been injured at precisely the moment when he appeared primed to haul Leinster over their final hurdle, while at the same time vanquishing the demons which predominantly visited him with Munster.
“It’s the nature of the sport,” admitted Cheika. But it’s a testament to the player how much positivity he’s brought to the place this week.
“He’s the ultimate team player. As much as people categorise him as an individual talent, he’s a real team player and I think his team-mates would be the first to tell you the same thing. From the team’s point of view, we’re probably more disappointed for him than he is for himself.
“He’s made a massive contribution and it’s been a pleasure from our point of view. It’s just sad that we know we’ll never get to run out with him again. He’ll be very fondly remembered in our group, no doubt about that.