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Alex Sanderson: 'Victims of our own demise but all credit to Bath'

By Liam Heagney
George Ford illustrates the Sale post-game dejection (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Sale reckoned they beat themselves in Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership semi-final at Bath. Last season’s beaten finalists appeared poised to reach a second successive final when they courageously fought back from trailing 5-18 25 minutes into the knockout game at The Rec to lead 23-21 a dozen minutes into the second half.

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They jumped ahead with a brilliantly executed, sucker punch of a try finished by Tom O’Flaherty after a delicious Joe Carpenter kick-through polished a counter initiated in their own half near halfway by the space-conscious Tommy Taylor.

That confidence-imbuing score should have given them every belief that they could press on and seal the win. However, they were instead held scoreless for the remaining 28 minutes of a gripping encounter.

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Having gone behind to a 66th-minute Finn Russell penalty, their hopes were then quashed by Niall Annett’s converted try six minutes from time.

The Alex Sanderson hot take quickly outlined where it has all gone wrong. “Our inability to control and dominate the middle third of the pitch in that second half through ill-discipline around the ruck and losing aerial contests.

Turnovers

2
Turnovers Won
1
10
Turnovers Lost
16

“It allowed them back into our 22 repeatedly and you can only soak up that pressure for so long until you concede points, which we did both by way of penalties and then that maul try at the end. Victims of our own demise but all credit to Bath.

“They were consistent throughout the game in terms of the collisions and were very good in the air, which they are. think it’s us one and two in terms of the two best teams in the league at getting balls back and they just got more back today.”

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One thing Sanderson refused to do was suggest the difference in the end was the absence of the injured Manu Tuilagi, whose Sale career is now over as he is joining Bayonne in the Top 14 for 2024/25. “Look, everyone could do with a bit of Manu power. It didn’t feel like that was the one thing missing today.

“He definitely would have given us something, as he has done the last five weeks. He played some of his best stuff but I’m not putting Manu not playing down to the result. We were in control of that result or should have been in control of that result.

“The pain of true failure is putting it all out there and accepting that you are not good enough, and having to grow is a bigger motivator than the elation of winning, 100 per cent.

“But even saying that, I have just asked the lads not to let that taint what a special season it is and what a special group they are. The underlying feeling is one of pride and privilege to be with this group.”

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It’s a gang containing multiple home-grown players whose careers are on an upward trajectory. Full-back Joe Carpenter was an example. “You think about him last year and he was on the end of a couple of mistakes in the final and you can see he has just grown as a player.

“He is dominating on that scene against that type of a team, it’s really good to see. We have grown these boys over the last three years. We haven’t picked up a lot from the few teams that unfortunately went down. We have grown them, but clearly we have got some more growing to do.”

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