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An ancient Japanese phrase has Sale believing they can win Europe

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

Alex Sanderson has likened his Sale team to the ancient Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. Heading into this Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 encounter with Bristol, the Sharks wouldn’t jump off the page as a favourite to go on and lift the title next month in Marseille. However, Sanderson isn’t writing off his Sale charges, claiming that it’s their imperfection that gives them every chance of getting past Bristol over two legs and striding forward into a quarter-final where they would most likely be away to the hugely fancied Racing 92. 

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Sale have slipped off the payoff qualification pace in recent weeks in the Gallagher Premiership, winning just one of their last four outings, but Sanderson embarked down a Japanese philosophical rabbit hole at his media briefing this week to explain why he has every faith that his Sharks can deliver despite their inconsistencies. 

“What is the point in being in it if you don’t think you can go all the way? These boys have never turned up just to make up numbers… but therein lies the challenge and I’m smiling about it now,” insisted Sanderson, promising that Sale would be better versus Bristol in Europe than they were in last week’s league defeat to Saracens.  

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“It’s exciting, there is the bar and it’s how you pitch yourself. We fell short on Friday but you get back on the horse and see where we get to against Bristol. We have got all the pieces that we can fit together. Without getting too deep, I told the lads here the other day my missus is into design, trend forecasting, designing bags and shoes and stuff when she was younger. 

“She came back one day years ago and what she said just struck me the other day. The expression she had was a Japanese concept, wabi-sabi. It is found in the perfection and imperfection, it maintains the concept that nothing is finished, nothing is permanent and nothing is perfect.

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“So examples of wabi-sabi pottery are ones where they make a really beautiful bowl, an almost perfect-looking bowl and they break it, then remake it and gild the cracks in with gold and in doing so they create something which is not perfect but is more valuable and more precious and more aseptically appreciated, something stronger because all the cracks you have had you have managed to fill in with gold. 

“So I was talking to the lads and sometimes when you are reaching for perfection – which most teams are – you never quite reach there and it is never quite good enough and you are never happy with it, but if you are able to embrace the imperfections, understand you have got all the pieces, then it’s just about filling the cracks in, just about putting those pieces together and creating something stronger.

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“We feel like we have done a bit of that already this season but we’re still not there yet, we still haven’t got this bowl that we want to put together again but we understand the concept because of the Japanese conceptual vocabulary, wabi-sabi.” 

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