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Bris Legends interviews: Felipe Contepomi

The flare and flamboyance of Felipe Contepomi’s Bristol beginnings re-emerged as a wonderfully soothing tonic for rugby supporters across the globe earlier this month, as a clip of one of rugby’s most iconic celebrations began to do the rounds on Twitter.

Ghosting through the Northampton defence with a trademark outside arc, a 24-year-old Contepomi dabbed the ball down before continuing his way into the family enclosure at the Memorial Stadium, taking a seat and joining in with the applause alongside the Bristol faithful.

The fly half was more than deserving of the ovation, as his virtuoso display fired his side to a first Twickenham final of the professional era, scoring all 32 points – two tries, two conversions and six penalties – in a sun-drenched victory at the club’s former home in June 2002.

And it’s a performance, result and celebration, that lives long in the memory of Contepomi – now backs coach at Irish giants, Leinster.

“Well, I remember first of all that we won, and it was a great game and a great opportunity for us to go on to Twickenham, but the try – it’s not like I had something planned (for the celebration) – it came like that and it was instinctive. It was the childrens', or family stand I think you call it, so there was no alcohol,” he said.

The try and overall performance was just a fragment of the impact Contepomi made during his three-year spell in the West Country, but it certainly personified the magic of one of Bristol’s finest ever players.

Contepomi made 70 appearances for Bristol from 2000-2003, scoring 28 tries and shattering numerous records along his majestic way. The Argentine was Bristol’s leading scorer in each of his three seasons – 2000/01 with 246 points, 2001/02 with 388 points and 2002/03 with 257 points. His tally of 388 points in 2001/02 is the highest of the professional era, while his 32-point haul in the semi-final victory over Northampton, referenced earlier, saw him match Simon Hogg’s.

Remarkably, Contepomi twice scored 31 points in a game, while also registering 30, 29 and 28 points during his astonishing stint with Bristol – and he believes his time in the blue and white hoops provided the perfect springboard for the rest of a decorated and distinguished career at the very top of the game.

“It was a great time for me, in terms of my development as a player. I had the chance to come to a very good team and playing in the Premiership was very good for me at that young age. I had a great, great time there and played with loads of very good players, had some very good coaches and I think it was a really positive time in my career.

“I think that, when you are a young player - and for me it was a big change, coming from Argentina into a professional environment - it was important for me to join a very good environment with very good, experienced players to learn from. So, it was definitely a good steppingstone for my career.

Contepomi touches down against Bath at Ashton Gate.

“I had a few offers after the 1999 World Cup, and I was quite comfortable back at home, studying medicine. But then Dean Ryan phoned me and asked me if I wanted to come, and that was August 2000, and for me, it was the time when I was getting more game time at fly half in the Argentina squad, so it was a good time to come and play professionally and have a go. I signed initially for one year then extended for another two years. It was more for me to have an experience and see if I really liked it – and I loved it.

“There were ups and downs because I don’t think things were as well organised as they are now, but I think there were loads of big moments, especially the local derbies. When you played Gloucester or Bath, those were huge games and I would say another good memory was the cup semi-final that we won against Northampton at the Memorial Stadium. We went to play the final, which we lost at Twickenham, but qualifying for Europe was huge and that last year, 2002/03, playing in Europe was massive. So, I’ve got loads of fond moments from my time with Bristol.”

The 87-cap international, who was indicted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in November 2017, also paid tribute to the club’s supporters for their backing throughout the ups and downs of that period.

“I think supporters make all of the clubs special, and at that time, I remember Bristol fans being very enthusiastic. You could see there was the potential to attract more people from outside, but the real hardcore Bristol supporters were amazing – they travelled, they followed us everywhere.

“Even in my last game, where we got relegated at London Irish, they were still very supportive. And I think that is why Bristol is such a great club – it’s the people there that make it truly special. Now they are getting bigger crowds and have moved to Ashton Gate, but the hardcore supporters are still amazing.”

“I think supporters make all of the clubs special, and at that time, I remember Bristol fans being very enthusiastic. You could see there was the potential to attract more people from outside, but the real hardcore Bristol supporters were amazing – they travelled, they followed us everywhere."

Felipe Contepomi

With the current Bristol side sitting pretty in third place in the Gallagher Premiership before the season ground to a temporary halt, Contepomi says he is pleased to see the club dining at the top table and believes sustained success could be on its way to Ashton Gate.

“To start with, I think they play a really, really attractive brand of rugby and it is great to see Bristol up there – and you can see that there is a culture behind that. Pat Lam is trying to build something to stay, not just for short-term results, it’s something that he’s building within the club, bringing the right people into the club. I’m happy to see Bristol doing well and hopefully they can keep on that plan and be playing big games in the near future.”

And the prospect of Contepomi’s Leinster visiting Ashton Gate in the Champions Cup in the near future?

“It would nice. For me, I’m working at Leinster and I played a lot here as well, so I’m fully committed to this cause, but it would be great to go back and play Bristol at Ashton Gate. It would be a great occasion.”


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