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'He's not far off': What Sanderson took from his Jones dinner date

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Sale boss Alex Sanderson has given an insight into the conversations that took place in Manchester when England boss Eddie Jones visited the Gallagher Premiership’s training ground in Manchester at the start of this week. Ahead of Tuesday’s Test squad announcement which saw Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry and Bevan Rodd all included in the training camp that begins in London on Sunday, the doors at were flung open to Jones and Jon Clarke, the head of S&C, to catch up with the players

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Jones then had a two-and-a-half-hour dinner with Sanderson, whom he worked with long ago at Saracens when the ex-England back-rower took his first steps in coaching after his playing career was cut short. 

A 20-year age gap exists between the pair, the 62-year-old Jones possessing quite a considerable CV in head coaching compared to the 42-year-old Sanderson who is just 16 months into his first director of rugby position after more than a decade as a Saracens assistant. 

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Jones has in recent weeks visited multiple Premiership training grounds. For instance, London Irish explained last Friday that the England coach had come in to take a close up look at Henry Arundell, the teen sensation who has recently been on fire, while Gloucester boss George Skivington mentioned on Tuesday that he was looking forward to meeting Jones later this week to find out exactly why his club didn’t get a single player named in the 36-strong squad.  

But how did the conversion unfold at Sale on Monday – does Jones just talk rugby non-stop or are there other aspects to his chats with directors of rugby such as Sanderson? “Pretty much all rugby,” said the Manchester club boss when asked by RugbyPass to shed light on what goes on at these types of meet-ups. “I’m very lucky enough to have a decent relationship with him. 

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“Look, it was decent back then (at Saracens when Jones was boss) but a very different relationship. I was an assistant to a very experienced coach back then and everyone knows that it is a hard environment that tests and stretches you. But we now meet up not as peers – he is vastly more experienced – but the conversation is one of too and fro. He brings his notepad out, he is keen to know what we are getting on with. 

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“We discuss the thing we have at the moment which is building a team together, both of us have got that challenge so we discussed the merits of the science behind that as well as the art of team cohesion and what it gives you on the field. 

“We have been doing some work with a neuroscientist and he was interested to hear where that was going. Eddie is perhaps one of the best people to have a very good understanding of where the game is going. He is constantly projecting through some analysis and his own interpretation of watching games, fashions and styles of play which are going to come to the fore. 

“This time last year he came up and he was hot on attacking kicks. He said: ‘I think attacking kicks are going to be prevalent this season”, and he’s not far off. A lot of the quarter-finals and semi-finals this last couple of weekends were won and lost around smarts in the kicking game. 

Racing kicked the most in the quarters of all the teams yet you wouldn’t say they are a team that kicks a lot but it was the nature of what they did, the style of the kicks which broke up the game. Leinster were second to that and they also had an emphatic win, so he wasn’t far off then and his projections or understanding of where the game might go moving forward were probably on point as well. 

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“So we spoke a bit about that which was exciting. What else? It was quite a long night talking to be fair. He has good advice for someone like myself who has nowhere near scratched the surface of what it is to be a good DoR,” continued the still-new Sale boss about his latest evening with Jones.  

“He has had a lot of different environments and there are certain challenges that I faced this year in and around discipline and how you can create an environment, an off-field environment, that will transfer to good discipline on the field so that was a big talking point in and around standards.

“In layman’s terms how you can lead by example from his standards, the things you walk past are the things you are willing to accept. That was the expression we talked about, so how he had coached those standards in the past and made the lads accountable to him. So all stuff rugby, two-and-a-half hours of rugby tooing and froing but mainly me trying to absorb some of his vast knowledge.”

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