Felipe Contepomi - Person of the year 2007
He was one of the few players at the Rugby World Cup to have had a full time occupation outside rugby (“Jannie” du Plessis a prop-forward for South Africa, is a qualified and practicing physician). And yet Felipe Conteponi was one of the most accomplished players in the tournament, by far the most accomplished of the rugby players who play their rugby in Ireland.
He is modest about this dual achievement. “I was able to qualify in medicine because the Royal College of Surgeons and Leinster rugby facilitated me in doing so. I am not currently involved in medicine but I hope to be. I would like to do some internership here, then maybe get involved in practicing medicine. Eventually my intention is to return to Argentine and specialise in orthopedic surgery. That is where my family is, where my home is, the country with which I identify”.
Did the intellectual stimulation of medicine help him in rugby, given that professional players in both rugby and soccer spend an enormous of their time playing computer games or watching television? “I don't think so. Rugby players play just once a week, unlike soccer players who play twice. It means rugby players can train for longer periods and those who are not otherwise engaged can read, do more video analysis (of the games). Yes they have a lot of free time but several of the players in the Leinster squad – Girvan Dempsey, Gordon D'Arcy, Rob Kearney and Luke FitzGerald, have all been involved in studying, doing part time courses. In Ireland players do a lot more outside the game that I found was the case in England (he played for Bristol before joining Leinster).
Rugby is no where as popular as football in Argentina. “Soccer is a religion there. Rugby used to be upper middle class game but it is now broadening its appeal but football remains the dominant sport”.
He comes from a huge family, seven siblings but another four “children” adopted by his parents after their father and mother were killed in an airplane crash in 1987.These additional siblings lived first with their grandmother but when she died, they moved into the Contepomi household. “I regard them as my brothers too”.
He says his twin brother, Manuel, was the more accomplished rugby player in their early career but injury curtailed the development of his game. He says another brother, Juan Paulo, now a Catholic priest, was the best rugby player in the family – he played at number 8.
Contepomi played more than 50 games for Argentina, and has also captained the team. He has played at out-half (his favourite position - “I like being the play-maker”), centre three quarter (the position he occupied in the RWC for Argentina), and full back. Agustin Pichot, captain of Argentina, said that Contepomi was a better player than All Black out-half, Dan Carter, reputedly the best rugby players in the world. Contepomi was the second highest points scorer in the RWC tournament, trailing only Percy Montgomery of South Africa.
Contepomi was nominated by the IRB as one of five candidates for the 2007 International Player of the Year award, won by Bryan Habana of South Africa. He won the 2007 Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year award.
He played a major role in Leinster's run in the 2006 Heineken Cup, helping Leinster to a 41-35 win over Cup holders Toulouse, scoring 21 points in the process and winning the man of the match award. That year he was top scorer in both the Celtic League and Heineken Cup. This year has been disappointing with Leinster, especially the defeat by Edinburgh on Saturday, 15 December.
In late January of 2006, Contepomi's girlfriend, Paula, gave birth to their daughter, Catalina. Only hours later, Contepomi played for Leinster against Glasgow Warriors, a game in which he went on to score 22 points.
His father is an orthopedic surgeon in Buenos Aires and a former rugby player himself. His mother has Alzheimer's and barely recognised her twin sons on television when playing last September for Argentina. ("Jannie" du Plessis was called up to replace BJ Botha after Botha damaged a knee against the USA in the pool stage. He received the call notifying him of his selection shortly after finishing an all-night shift at a Bloemfontein hospital on the evening of 30 September, during which he performed a Caesarean section!)