You can take Alex Sanderson out of Saracens but you seemingly can’t take Sarries out of the London club’s former assistant 14 weeks into his new role as Sale director of rugby. Despite being busy guiding the Sharks at the upper end of the Gallagher Premiership, he hasn’t forgotten the Championship fight he left behind when he was confirmed as Steve Diamond’s successor on January 15.
While Sanderson’s Sale picked up their latest top-flight win on Saturday at Worcester, his old club Saracens were preparing for Sunday’s all-important top-table Championship clash at home to leaders Ealing.
That match comes at the end of a week where lengthy contract extensions through to 2025 were announced for Saracens boss Mark McCall and nine other staff members at the club where Sanderson had been a long-serving part of the backroom until last January when he opted to move away from a set-up he knew inside out.
He left Sarries with their best wishes and his links haven’t faded in his time in Manchester, Sanderson telling RugbyPass last Tuesday before speaking from the Sale training ground that he had just missed a call on his phone from his former boss who has remained in regular contact with his old pal.
“I just had a missed call from Mark McCall just as the interview was on so there is the answer to your question, I speak to them every week. Mark McCall is my mentor now. Well, he was then but if I have got something I don’t know about, which is every week there is something I don’t know how to handle, I give him a call and he will give me advice. So yeah, still very good friends with them.”
"I’m constantly amazed and surprised by this fella"
– The de Jager attitude in the face of his latest injury adversity has known no bounds https://t.co/xjx3bSEq8R
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 21, 2021
While Sale are chasing points to consolidate their chase for a top-four Premiership finish and were recently involved in the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup, Saracens’ second-tier season only got underway in early March. They endured a terrible start, losing away to Cornish Pirates, but they have since won four matches and will now look to end unbeaten Ealing’s winning streak.”
Sanderson has been keenly watching their progress. “I saw the 50-point win last weekend,” he said, referencing the away victory last Sunday at Doncaster. “This weekend is the bigger one, this is the one they want to win and have to get right to finish top.
“It’s really difficult for those lads because a lot of them are probably in a position where they don’t want to be, they just don’t want to be there (playing in the Championship). Some of them might feel they don’t deserve to be there, so finding that motivation to go out every week and perform at your best is a really intrinsic thing.
“You have really got to dig deep to understand themselves to get the performances that they need. Ealing at home, there is not much more motivation needed there, not after the two losses they faced in the warm-up [the Trailfinders Cup].
“They are going to come straight back up and be a force to be reckoned with again. I know that because I sat down with them all before I came here. I wanted to understand where the club was going and got a proper feel for what I was leaving and get all the cards on the table. I’m confident they are in a good place to push on when they come back up.”
Having been part of the serial trophy-winning Saracens set-up for so long before their automatic relegation for salary cap breaches, it is understandable that Sanderson has compared his old club with the scene he has inherited at Sale.
“There is so much about this team that is special and more than what I have been used to at Saracens,” he reckoned. “Obviously there are things that we need to improve on which are nowhere near the level of what Sarries has been functioning at.
“But when it comes to the physicality, when it comes to the team spirit, all those things that I spoke about before La Rochelle that we had for the first 40 minutes, all those things that I prioritise above all else, they have in abundance here, they already had it.
“They were already a big, physical team so it’s perhaps more about the detail, more about the small things, consistently doing those small things well to get a more consistent performance and that is what I found over the last 14 weeks.”
'No room for error' is the message from Saracens ahead of their must-see London derby with leaders Ealing https://t.co/fl2c4th5Ts
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 23, 2021
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