Contepomi on how Jake White's recruiting will benefit Bulls
South Africa’s initial expedition into European competition was, at best, a mixed bag – some wins, but mostly failures and only one appearance in the play-offs.
That was when the Cheetahs and Southern Kings represented the country in the Pro14.
Add to that the Bulls’ embarrassing performance against Italian outfit Benetton in the Rainbow Cup Final this year, and pundits don’t have much faith in the ability of SA teams to achieve success on tour in Europe,
However, Argentinean legend and Leinster backs coach Felipe Contepomi believes the latest contingent from the Republic will be a far more formidable addition to the rugby stage in the Northern Hemisphere.
Speaking to @rugby365com ahead of the first round of the United Rugby Championship, he said the back-to-back Currie Cup champion Bulls will be a real challenge for the four-time European champion Leinster when they face off in Dublin in the opening weekend.
This is despite the Bulls’ dismal failure when they lost 8-35 to Benetton in the Rainbow Cup Final in Treviso earlier this year.
The Pro14 performances of the Southern Kings and Cheetahs also don’t inspire confidence.
The Southern Kings could not win a single match in Europe in the Pro14 – winning just three of their 41 outings, all at home.
The Cheetahs were more successful – winning 12 of their 21 matches in the 2017-18 season and eight of their 21 matches the next year. However, only two of those 19 wins were in Europe – beating Zebre twice in Parma.
Contepomi said he certainly would not make too much of the Bulls’ trip to Italy earlier this year.
“With Jake White as their coach, he would have taken a lot out of that trip,” he said of the horror show in the Rainbow Cup Final.
The Argentinean legend said White’s astute recruiting – bringing back a lot of South Africans with plenty of experience of playing in Europe – will stand the Bulls in good stead.
The recruitment resulted in a very experienced squad named for the four-match tour to start the URC campaign – including players like Arno Botha (two seasons with Munster), Marcell Coetzee (five seasons with Ulster), South Africa Jacques du Plessis (six years with Montpellier), Bismarck du Plessis (six years with Montpellier), Johan Goosen (more than 80 outings for Racing 92 and Montpellier), Lionel Mapoe (stints in Japan with the Spears and Stade Français in the Top 14), Harold Vorster (with the Wild Knights in Japan) and Ruan Combrinck (Stade Français).
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“They will be more comfortable in coming to this part of the world,” the Leinster backs coach said.
“I would not suggest they would be easy [to beat] on the road,” he said, adding: “They will be a tough team on the road as well.”
Contepomi said he watched a lot of the Currie Cup and have a good idea of what to expect from the Bulls.
“I am from Argentina and I have always been very interested in the Currie Cup. I know how important the Curie Cup is for South African players.
“They [the Bulls] were outstanding and we have them in the first round.
“It is a big, big challenge for us.”
Speaking of the rest of the South African contingent – the Lions, Sharks and Stormers – he said he hasn’t gone into much detail on those franchises yet.
They face the Lions at the RDS in the first week of January, before travelling to South Africa in April for back-to-back encounters with the encounters with Sharks and Stormers.
“The South African teams have different styles,” he told @rugby365com, adding that some teams prefer an expansive approach and others opt for a more defence, strategic approach.
“We have time to see how those teams evolve in the competition, before we play them.”
Contepomi joined Leinster in 2003 and made 116 appearances as a player – winning a Celtic League title in 2008 and a European Cup title a year later – before joining Toulon.
Until last season was the record all-time point scorer for Leinster with 1,225 points.
He won 87 caps for Argentina and was a key member of the team that finished third in the 2007 World Cup.