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'Alex Sanderson slammed Wayne Barnes was not what I was doing'

By Liam Heagney

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Alex Sanderson has taken issue with media headlines claiming that he slammed referee Wayne Barnes in the wake of last Friday’s Gallagher Premiership loss by Sale at Bristol. The Sharks lost out 32-15 at Ashton Gate and what the director of rugby said in the aftermath of a match where his team had two tries ruled out was construed as an attack on the veteran official, who was officiating in his 250th English league game

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Sanderson’s hot take in the immediate aftermath of the loss that left his team adrift in tenth place on the table was: “Any loss is a concern. I don’t see home and away as being any point of difference. It might influence the referee, and I think it might have tonight, maybe.

“He’s one of the world’s best, but I couldn’t fathom some of those decisions around the scrum. I would have to have another look because there are a lot of moving parts to it. I will have a look at it and go through the proper channels.”

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This view of Sanderson resulted in headlines such as ‘Alex Sanderson slams Wayne Barnes over scrum calls’, ‘Sale give referee Wayne Barnes a mauling over scrum calls’ and ‘Sanderson homes in on refereeing after Bristol regain form’. 

It’s the sort of negativity that could pique the interest of RFU officials who this week have called Northampton boss Chris Boyd and Jersey Reds coach Harvey Biljon to account for alleged prejudicial conduct relating to their comments on the match officials following recent games.

Sanderson hasn’t heard if his comments will land him in a spot of disciplinary bother but he admitted he was p****d off with the headlines they generated, insisting that he hadn’t slammed Barnes and might now have to be less forthcoming in his opinions for fear that they get misrepresented again by the media.

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Asked by RugbyPass might he have heard from the RFU regarding what he had to say last weekend, Sale boss Sanderson said: “Not as yet because I didn’t slam him. I said, ‘I couldn’t fathom’. It’s not to say he got it wrong, it’s that I didn’t understand his decisions. You take that in whatever context and you write whatever headline you did but Alex Sanderson slammed Wayne Barnes was not what I was doing. 

“Every coach in the land understands that an away fixture with an away crowd can influence officials and I said, ‘Officials’. It wasn’t insinuating Wayne Barnes because there were two tries there which were called by TMO and not Wayne Barnes yet for some reason, well it’s your job to sensationalise, isn’t it? 

“So I haven’t spoken to him [Barnes] yet. I will speak to him about it. I am still somewhat dumbfounded about some of those decisions but, like I said, I will speak to him. I spoke to him straight after the game and we agreed to catch up this week so that is on the agenda. I am not taking back what I said because what I said was the truth. 

“I am aware that you are not allowed to call officials directly about the decision making which I didn’t, it was about my understanding. If anything you can quote me about being a DoR who doesn’t understand the game well enough. I guess that is another way of writing headlines.”

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Asked might it affect his general openness when discussing rugby with the media, Sanderson added: “It definitely opens my eyes moving forward to probably saying less, which I don’t think it should be about. I have always been pretty honest with you guys always and you generally write good stuff but that wasn’t the truth. so I am a little bit narked with how it came across. 

“I am p****d off with how it came across because it wasn’t in that context and it has been sensationalised to create some headlines. But hey, it’s your job, isn’t it? That’s on me to say, not you guys.”

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