Belfast Telegraph

My old pal Mignoni is making Lyon a team to be wary of: Contepomi

 

Wise head: Felipe Contepomi says Leinster will be on alert
Wise head: Felipe Contepomi says Leinster will be on alert

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

A quick search of the names Felipe Contepomi and Pierre Mignoni online throws up five images. In four of them, the Toulon half-backs are grappling with Ronan O'Gara. The other shows the red-faced Munster out-half being held back by James Coughlan.

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They are snapshots of a different time, when the firebrand Argentinian was one of the class out-halves of his generation and enjoyed a long-running battle with his Irish rival.

They're both on the coaching scene now, as is Mignoni, who is putting together a CV to rival any of his peers in the Top 14.

A doughty scrum-half at Clermont and Toulon, who won 28 caps for France, he was Bernard Laporte's head coach and helped guide his mega-rich hometown club to three successive Champions Cups, before he left for Lyon.

France's second city is located on the edge of their rugby heartland and is seen as having huge, unfulfilled potential.

Lyon OU last won the Bouclier de Brennus in 1933, but slowly they are building themselves into a force and took advantage of the World Cup to steal a march on their opponents to go top of the domestic league table before Europe got under way.

Promoted three times and relegated twice in the last decade, the French side appear to have finally found the right blend to staying the course and are in their second successive season in the Champions Cup, having lost all six matches last season.

On Saturday, they become the 15th French club Leinster have faced in this competition and, while they've some way to go before having the pedigree of the more illustrious names on that list, there is plenty of respect in UCD for what Lyon have been building.

And part of that comes down to Mignoni, who played with Contepomi, was coached by Joe Schmidt at Clermont and was part of a Toulon set-up that ended Leinster's European ambitions in 2015.

"I played with him. I know him quite well," the former Puma said.

"He has always been very studious of the game. My opinion is that he's got a great rugby philosophy.

"He is a hard worker, a very good coach, and you could see he was always going to be a coach, a good one.

"He is one of those players. He was coaching when he was playing.

"I think he's very studious and he is pragmatic, at the same time keen on taking risk, having that offensive play, wide play, trying to impose their rhythm.

"You could see it in how he used to play.

"He was one of those No.9s that would play with a lot of rhythm."

After leaving Toulon for Lyon, Mignoni convinced a number of the squad to follow, including centre Rudi Wolf, prop Xavier Chiocci and Fijian powerhouse Josua Tuisova.

But when Contepomi looks at Saturday's opposition, he sees similarities with another French force rather than his former club.

"I think they are a bit more stable (than Toulon)," he said. "If you asked me for a similarity I would put it more towards the Clermont team that Pierre was involved with than Toulon.

"Toulon was up and down and it was a change of personnel every year; a few come and go. In Lyon, he has been getting his personnel for the last three or four years at least. Getting some players, getting involved in the culture they want to develop. He has been developing something bigger, that it is improving steadily and every year getting better.

"That is why they are where they are. It is not like they came from the blue.

"They have been getting better in the last few years and improving inside in their domestic league, and now I know they want to make that step in Europe."

Last season, Leinster went to France in round two and were beaten by a Toulouse side who were also top of the Top 14 and eventually emerged as the coming force in Europe that season.

"It's a huge, huge lesson and a huge experience for everyone that was involved," Contepomi said.

"For two reasons: First, because we were in a similar situation coming off a win, five points in the first round at home. And going to play an in-form French team. It's a good lesson.

"Hopefully we learned from it and we'll only learn if we do it right."

Under his old brother in arms, Contepomi reckons Lyon are on the right track despite losing to Northampton on opening weekend.

Leinster will be wary of what's coming.

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