That winning feeling: Leinster celebrate victory in the 2017/2018 final against Racing 92
Paris (AFP) - Leinster kick off the defence of their European Champions Cup title with a tricky home tie against Wasps on Friday, as assistant coach Felipe Contepomi insisted possession will be key against a side known for its attacking prowess.
The Irish province last season broke a five-year stranglehold on the Cup after Toulon’s trio of wins (2013-15) and Saracens’ double (2016-17), adding to titles they had previously won in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Contepomi, Leinster’s backs coach who amassed 651 points in 87 appearances for Argentina, was part of the province’s 2009 Cup-winning squad after spending six seasons mixing his medical surgery studies with playing 116 times for the Dublin outfit.
After appearing 40 times in the Cup and 18 more in the second-tier European Challenge Cup, Contepomi well realises the danger of looking too far ahead in a cut-throat competition in which only the five pool winners are guaranteed to advance to the quarter-finals along with the three best runners-up.
“Last season is last season, it means nothing today,” was the 41-year-old Argentinian’s blunt assessment.
“We’re starting a new competition this year. What has been achieved last season means nothing.
“I think it would be very mistaken thinking beyond this first game, it’s the most important, it’s the start of the campaign and they’re a very difficult team we’re playing against.”
Contepomi said that the biggest defence of Dai Young’s Wasps team, boasting a host of entertaining England players, was “their attack”.
“They can be a real threat, we have to definitely make sure we’re in control and in possession of the ball,” the former fly-half/centre said.
“They have match-winning players… so the more we can control the game and have the ball is better for us.”
Wasps captain Joe Launchbury was upbeat about the challenge facing his side at a sell-out, floodlit RDS Arena.
“It’s great that we get the chance to kick the tournament off on a Friday night against last year’s champions,” the 27-year-old forward said.
“It’s going to be a really good test of where we are and how set we are to continue in this tournament, so it’s a really good start for us.”
- Packed with internationals -
Launchbury added: “In terms of the threats that they possess, I think it’s pretty clear from the way they played last year.
“They’re a team that’s packed full of internationals, they play together on the international stage, then they come back and play in the same style for Leinster.”
Leinster and Wasps find themselves in a testing Pool 1 alongside Toulouse and Bath.
“We’re under no illusions about the challenge we’ve got,” Launchbury said.
“But that’s the great thing about this tournament: we face them and Bath in back-to-back weekends, and we have Toulouse in back-to-back games around Christmas time, so it’s a fantastic way for us to kick off this tournament.”
Wasps coach Young, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions prop, admitted his side wouldn’t be favourites.
“But we’re looking forward to it,” he said. “We’re going to the home of the champions and we’re going there to try and win. But we have to play to our potential because if we don’t we won’t be near.
“You can’t limp over the line against Leinster. We’ve got to try and come out of every European game with something because if you have two bad results, you’re going to struggle to get through the pool stages.”
Fellow English Premiership side Saracens, with six wins from six in the domestic league, are in Pool 3 with Glasgow, Lyon and Cardiff Blues.
Struggling Toulon, 12th in the Top 14 after a shocking start to the season that has seen them win just two from seven, face league rivals Montpellier, Newcastle and Edinburgh in Pool 5.
Premiership leaders Exeter are drawn alongside Castres, Munster and Gloucester in Pool 2, while French big spenders Racing 92 – who went down 15-12 to Leinster in last year’s nine-penalty final – are in Pool 4 with beaten semi-finalists Scarlets, Leicester and Ulster.