Felipe Contepomi during British &
Irish Lions vs Argentina, Cardiff, May 2005
(Prensa Uniůn Argentina de Rugby)
to Felipe Contepomi evokes exciting moments in our
whether as players or supporters. It is also a way to
learn, in a peculiar way, about playing professional rugby
with the enthusiasm of an amateur.
in Buenos Aires, Contepomi went to study at Cardenal
Newman School, run by the Irish Christian Brothers, in the
outskirts of the city. He started playing rugby at the
school, and was quickly picked for the junior
selections in Buenos Aires and later at the national
level. He has played more than fifty games with The Pumas.
His twin brother Manuel is also a player in the national
A star of the
Leinster Rugby team in Ireland, Felipe is also a medical
doctor, having graduated from the Royal College of
Surgeons. He lives in Dublin with his wife Paula and their
Murray (EM): What influence has your Irish school
education had on your life and on your rugby-playing?
Contepomi (FP): [Cardenal] Newman was and still
is important in my life. It was my second home, and had a
great effect on my educational and life values, and of
course on my rugby-playing. Today when you speak of my
career, the first milestone is always el Newman. It
is an Irish school with high standards, and I was
conscious of the Irish character of the school from the
beginning, for instance during the Irish tournaments.
Indeed, having studied at Newman school was important in
later decisions that I made, like when I was offered the
chance to play for Leinster.
You studied to be a medical doctor, and were awarded MB,
BCh and BAO degrees by the Royal College of Surgeons in
Dublin. How difficult do you find studying and playing
professional rugby in Ireland?
Some consider that being a good player and a good student
is not possible. And perhaps medicine is not the most
common of university studies for a rugby player. But there
are many professional players who are studying. Of course
sometimes it is difficult to do both things together, but
I donít think it is a sacrifice. I didnít study just
for the sake of it. If you want to be a medical doctor you
need to make some concessions, but you can also make some
good choices to link both activities. I selected
orthopaedics as my speciality.
If rugby becomes professional in Argentina, do you think
it would lead to the demise of vibrant club-level rugby,
as is claimed to have happened in Ireland and Wales?
In my view, professional rugby must be built on the
foundations of the amateur activity and its values. Itís
not just money that counts, as so many people think in
Argentina. As I learnt at Newman School, education and
values are key elements of rugby, whether professional or
amateur. In Argentina we have the advantage of being late
entrants to professional rugby. We can learn from others
to avoid mistakes. Our greatest fault is to think that we
need to reinvent the wheel. However, we need to keep the
amateur infrastructure in order to develop professional
Even if the adjective is a little strong, do you consider
yourself a nationalist?
Yes, it is strong and ambiguous too. In a way, I canít
uproot myself from my origins. One has to be aware of the
place one comes from. On the other hand, I am very open to
changes Ö to the future. I do believe in the common good
for anyone, independently of the society in which you are
born or educated. In rugby, this means that I must play at
100 percent of my strength and passion, whether for
Bristol, Leinster or The Pumas. And yet, your countryís
jersey is so powerful! Playing rugby means that you must
respect others, and your team-mates. Compared to other
sports, rugby gives you values, not just entertainment. At
least in Argentina, from an early age you are linked to a
club, a group of friends, a society. If there are good
relationships amongst the group, the results will be seen
in the field. We have to consider that rugby has a long
history of amateurism. Football started to be professional
in the 1930s, while rugby didnít eliminate restrictions
on professionalism until the 1990s. We had a century of
amateur values in our activity before becoming
Singing the national anthem before
Argentina vs. France,
7 September 2007 (third from left Manuel
Contepomi; fourth from left Felipe Contepomi)
Why was the image of The Pumas singing the Argentine
national anthem the one that you wished to give to the
We sang spontaneously what we felt at the time. It was our
mood. We always sing out loud and intensely. Some
journalists made a big deal of it, but we liked it that
way. And the musical version that they played helped us to
sing in that way.
Rugby has adapted to diverse cultures in different places.
While in southern France, for instance, it has a strong
rural character, in Argentina is more urban and has been
Yes, it is true that before rugby was more-or-less an
elite entertainment. But since 1999 there has been a
complete change in the situation, and the activity has
grown enormously. Now it is more popular, and more people
from diverse social origins are attracted to rugby.
During the 2007 World Cup you publicly criticised the
embattled Irish coach Eddie OíSullivan. Was this
motivated by a personal enmity against the coach?
I did not criticise Eddie OíSullivan. At that time,
people in Ireland were certain that they would reach the
semi-finals, and they did not consider otherwise.
Professional coaches are hired to build successful teams.
If they donít, they are fired the day after losing the
match, and that is what I said about Eddie OíSullivan.
This doesnít happen only with the Irish coaches. Take a
look at the Australians, the French. Professionalism
requires getting results. Thatís all I said. However, I
guess I did not like OíSullivanís comments after his
team lost to the Pumas. It is always easier to blame
others instead of recognising what you yourself have done
Do you think that night in Lens in 1999 (when Ireland lost
the chance for a place for the world cup semi-final in
Dublin) has created a long legacy of bitterness and
begrudgery, particularly among the Irish coaching staff
and management, towards Argentina, or do the roots of the
enmity run deeper than that?
What happened is that the Pumas shocked Ireland. The Irish
players and coaches couldn't believe that they were losing
to Argentina. When we checked in at the hotel that evening
we saw the luggage left by some of the Irish players who
couldn't conceive of the idea that they would have to
check out, because they were certain that the boys in
would secure the semi-finals. There isn't such an enmity
towards Argentina; I actually experienced the opposite
from players, management and supporters. You should see
how well they consider us when we win over Ireland. They
really understand fair play, and you can see their good
feelings especially when they aren't so lucky.
British & Irish Lions vs Argentina,
Cardiff, May 2005
(Prensa Uniůn Argentina de Rugby)
That's something you definitively don't see among the
(laughs) Not at all.
Do you find a condescending attitude among the IRB and
established home unions towards Argentina?
No. I think that the IRB wants to help Argentina to
establish an international rugby infrastructure. But there
are two important factors we need to take into account.
Today's rugby is professional and consequently, it is a
business. If Argentina does not present a potential
business for the international community it will be very
hard to break in.
Jorge Bķsico, the famous rugby journalist, wrote a piece
during the rugby world cup on the Pumas being a metaphor
for the country that Argentines would like their country
to be: orderly, non-corrupt and respectful. He wrote that
football represented their country as it actually is:
corrupt, disorderly and characterised by random violence
and lack of respect. Would you agree with these
I would challenge those comparisons between football and
rugby. Most of the Argentine football players give their
best in the field. They travel frequently and to remote
locations, keeping to crazy schedules, and they have to
play a few hours after landing. Then they try to deliver
an excellent game. Some people in Argentina say that
football players 'earn millions', and in some cases this
may be true. But the physical and psychological effort
must be contributed either way. Every sporting activity
has its own idiosyncrasy, and we have to respect
How did you adjust to life in Ireland? Did you have to
adapt to professional rugby?