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Alex Sanderson hails Manu Tuilagi

By PA

Trending on RugbyPass

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Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson felt the mere presence of Manu Tuilagi on the field inspired his side to an outstanding victory over Bristol which secured their place in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.

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Bristol had just taken the lead through a stunning Ben Earl try when Tuilagi came on as a replacement for youngster Connor Doherty – the 30-year-old’s first game in just under eight months.

Although Tuilagi’s opportunities with ball in hand were limited, Sale’s performance improved immeasurably as they secured a 22-12 triumph and Sanderson felt the England star was a significant factor in that.

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“He’s the glue in the team,” he said. “He spends more time with the younger lads than he does the senior boys. He brings everyone together and he’s a brilliant barista!

“He must have taught 20 people how to make coffee, so his time is everyone else’s. That’s why people rally to him because of the bloke he is, not just the player.

“He’s a really lovely bloke so to see him out there after what he’s been through, I’m happy for him.”

The Sharks’ win over the league leaders ensured their place in the end-of-season play-offs – their first top-four finish since the 2006 Premiership triumph.

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It is a huge achievement for a side that were often content with scrapping for a Champions Cup qualification spot, but Sanderson is still setting his team higher targets.

“We’re building still, we’re not peaking, and that’s the exciting thing. There’s more in us,” Sale’s boss added.

“The play-offs is one thing, you’re happy about that, but we’re in it to win it. Play-offs are in three games time but we still want to be there in four and give it a proper crack.

“I’ve learned through the years that a home semi is massively important, not just for the home advantage but the travel and everything else.

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“If we have a crowd like we had tonight, and that was only 2,000, then the atmosphere obviously does make a difference. It was buzzing here tonight.”

Sale closed the gap to Bristol to eight points, but it is highly unlikely they will catch the leaders with just two games remaining.

The Bears are tantalisingly close to sealing a home semi-final and their director of rugby, Pat Lam, admits that they learned plenty from Friday’s encounter.

“You’ve got to be proud of all the players that were on the pitch. It was bone-crunching, it was physical. It was pretty close to Test match physicality,” Lam said.

“We had a lot of opportunities at 0-0 that we didn’t take, although you have to give a lot of credit to Sale.

“While there’s effort, we always talk about the next level and preparing for finals rugby; it’s more important to stay as a team and play with the structures we train with.

“There were a lot of things we came out of, which wasn’t us. The boys will review that and we’ll ensure that we learn and come back.”

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Alex Sanderson hails Manu Tuilagi

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