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'I've made big f*** ups in life... things you kick yourself over'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

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Sale boss Alex Sanderson has admitted it has been difficult to see his team suffer from late missed kicks in recent Gallagher Premiership matches but rather than hang rookie out-half Tom Curtis out to dry, the Sharks staff have rallied around the 20-year-old in an attempt to bulletproof him for any future high-pressure end-game moments.

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Curtis was bumped up the squad pecking order in October due to injuries and has been providing bench cover to another rookie half-back, the 22-year-old Kieran Wilkinson, who started the season coming off the bench to kick the match-winning round one penalty in the win over Bath.

Wilkinson has gone on to wear the starting No10 shirt in the recent games versus Gloucester, Harlequins and Leicester, with Curtis providing support from the bench. The sub held his nerve in the middle match against the defending champions, putting Sale into a 76th minute lead with a penalty before Raffi Quirke’s win-sealing try.

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However, his other two outings ended with missed kicks from the tee. Curtis was off target with a clock-in-the-red conversion that would have beaten Gloucester and he was also errant with last Saturday’s final kick of the match at Leicester, the missed conversion costing Sale a losing bonus point.

What has been the reaction at Sale to the points-costing inaccuracy? “I have made loads of mistakes, I have made some big f*** ups in my life and that is the same anywhere, things that you could have done differently, things that you kick yourself over,” said Sanderson to RugbyPass.

“But in the end, it is like anyone who makes a mistake, it’s not about telling them how to do it better because I couldn’t. It is about making them understand that you are there for them, that you support them, that you still back them, you still trust them and he [Curtis] is going to have his time again. The result of that Leicester game, the fact that we didn’t get a point wasn’t down to that last kick. It hinged on it but it wasn’t down to it and I said that in the circle on the field, I let him and everyone else know just that.

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“He came back in on Sunday and kicked for about three hours,” added Sanderson about the reaction of Curtis to his second last-gasp missed Sale kick in three outings. “That is the kind of what you want. It is, ‘You are backing me, I am backing myself to be better’. That was his response. What a bloke to come in and then just crack on with it.

“We are going to help him. We had a conversation, are we doing everything with these young lads that we can possibly do to put them in the best headspace? I have seen him kick those day in day out from further, from wider. He has got it in him. His dad was a footballer and he strikes the ball beautifully but something psychologically, as you would expect in the cauldron that it was, affected him.

“We have got a who works with Man United academy who has done some stuff with our penalty takers, so we are going to help him out and get some extra tuition on the back of what we are already giving him to see if we can fast-track the mental approach to it as well as the physical because he is doing all the work, but it’s the top two inches.”

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