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Contepomi is adamant European champions will have earned their crown

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Felipe Contepomi

Felipe Contepomi

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

Felipe Contepomi

Felipe Contepomi has no truck with the concept that this year's Heineken Champions Cup is diminished by the curtailed format and cancelled games. Leinster are through to the quarter-finals having played two pool matches.

Friday's last-16 clash with Toulon was cancelled due to a number of visiting players being deemed close contacts of a positive case and the home side were handed a walkover.

The assistant coach is more concerned about the lack of a hit-out than any hit to the tournament's prestige.

To win the competition, Leinster will have to overcome champions Exeter Chiefs at their home ground, Sandy Park, on Saturday.

The semi-final and final will be no picnic either given the calibre of teams lining up for the last eight.

"Totally," he said when asked if it would be as impressive an achievement as Leinster's other titles.

"You're playing against the best teams in Europe and it's the situation.

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"You have to get on with it and sometimes the hardest part is adapting, and we've been having to adapt all the time. You are preparing for one game and suddenly you don't play.

"You're frustrated and you've put in all the effort and then you have to turn the page and do some things. 'Will they work? Will this thing work? Will that not work?' And you haven't seen them.

"Sometimes the best thing is to keep on playing, but it's tougher to adapt.

"That's the way it has to be done. It's been like that for everyone. You can see Sale, they are in a quarter-final and I think they lost both pool games.

"Would that not be merited if they go all the way and win it? They will be good winners.

"They still have to go to La Rochelle now and then whoever gets to the semi-final will be a huge game and whoever gets to the final, it will be an even bigger game so we are talking about the best eight teams in Europe now and that's the way it is.

"It's the reality, you can start chucking in a few other names, but there wouldn't be that many other teams out of the best eight in Europe that they are now."

As Leinster spent the weekend with their feet up, Exeter Chiefs overcame a sluggish start to beat Lyon well in their last 16 game at Sandy Park.

Contepomi would much prefer his side had taken on Toulon than sat things out.

"Always it is better to play," he said.

"In hindsight, it would have been great for us to go out and compete against Toulon because Toulon is a great team and for us we were well prepped, we were ready to go.

"It would have given us another week of game-time cohesion for some of the guys who have been in the Irish camp for so long.

"We have 20 guys in the Irish camp, so it's not that it's one or two guys coming back and stepping in.

"We have half of the team or more in that Irish camp for eight weeks, so we need to get them into Leinster mode and the best way is by playing games.

"I would love to have played, but it is what it is. It's out of our control and we have to get on with it and just try to get that cohesion in training."

The walkover set up this defining battle against the Premiership and European champions.

"It can't get bigger, going to play the champions in their backyard," Contepomi said.

"It's the biggest challenge, it's not only the European champions, it's the Premiership champions."

Leinster are without injured quartet James Ryan, Caelan Doris (both head), Garry Ringrose (ankle) and Will Connors (knee) while Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring) is a doubt.

Belfast Telegraph


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