Cape Town - Former Argentina flyhalf Felipe Contepomi is delighted at the prospect of coaching the Jaguares during their inaugural season of Super Rugby.
The qualified medical doctor has left his practice in the capable hands of his father Carlos in order to test his coaching skills in the cauldron of Super Rugby.
“It would have been great being involved in Super Rugby as a player, but I don’t live in the past,” Contepomi told Sport24 exclusively, while on tour in South Africa.
After facing the Lions in a friendly (on Friday at 19:00), the Jaguares will open their Super Rugby account against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein next Friday, February 26 at 19:10.
“I’m more than happy with the times that I was part of the national team as a player, and the opportunity to work as a coach of a Super Rugby franchise is great,” he said.
“The most important thing is that the dream has come true for Argentinian rugby. I look at the players in our squad and think to myself that they are very fortunate to have this historic opportunity to play Super Rugby.”
Contepomi retired from the international fold in 2013 and has since channelled his passion for rugby through coaching.
Named as one of Raul Perez’s three assistant coaches in December, Contepomi has been hard at work behind the scenes sharpening the Super Rugby debutant’s attacking strategy.
“As a player you focus on your own game, while as a coach you have to watch a group of 30-odd players and use effective communication skills in order to transmit your message to them. That’s not always easy,” the former Puma admitted, “but it helps that I have experienced coaches around me.”
Jaguares captain Agustin Creevy aptly described Super Rugby as the ‘NBA of rugby’ and with teams now having to score three tries more than their opponents in order to secure the bonus point, Contepomi suggested that supporters are in for even more high-octane rugby and ball-in-play time.
“I played with the above rule during my time in France - for Stade Francais and Toulon - and I believe it’s a positive change within Super Rugby. It’s not about improving the entertainment because rugby is not a show, but I agree with law changes which favour teams who show initiative.”
Contepomi, who enjoyed more than a decade-long playing career in Europe with his longest stint at Leinster, admitted the Six Nations is no match for the standard of fare served up over Super Rugby.
“Super Rugby is more frenetic and is played at a higher speed than the Six Nations. In Super Rugby, there is a lot of innovation, while in the Six Nations, matches are often tight and sometimes even boring. Wales and Ireland are trying to play a bit more ball-in-hand rugby. And hopefully now with new coaches in Eddie Jones and Guy Novés, England and France will develop a better style of play.”
While the Jaguares failed to beat the Stormers in their pre-season opener, Contepomi suggested the team should draw on Argentina’s win over South Africa in the Rugby Championship for inspiration.
“The more you play against a team, the higher your probability of success,” the 87-Test legend said.
“Take our 37-25 victory over South Africa in Durban last year, as an example. It’s not that we are better than South Africa. It just so happens that if you play the same team twice every year and come to understand their strengths and weaknesses; at some stage you are going to defeat them.”
However, Contepomi heaped high praise on South African rugby and said that the conveyor belt will continue to churn out talent. He noted that South Africa will remain a rugby powerhouse because there are many different levels of professionalism, with the focus centred on developing players.
When asked to select the best flyhalf and centre in the game today, Contepomi cited Rugby World Cup-winners Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu, who are plying their trade in France, as the best in the business.
“For me, Carter is the premier flyhalf in the world. He possesses the knowledge, the skills and the experience. He has the coolness of mind to appear and deliver in great moments. In terms of centres, there are many talented players, but Nonu tops my list. In the beginning of his career, he was primarily a damaging ball-carrier, but now he is also a play-maker. Nonu is what you would refer to as a triple-threat: he can kick, pass and run. The 33-year-old has become a well-rounded player.”
While not yet on the same level as Carter and Nonu, Contepomi said that the Jaguares have some interesting young players within their ranks.
“The more competition they experience at such a high level, the better they will become. There will be some big names in the near future for world rugby.”