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Last Sunday's Richard Wigglesworth visit behind enemy lines

By Liam Heagney
Richard Wigglesworth (second left) and Alex Sanderson (second right) stroll past the Gallagher Premiership trophy in London on Wednesday (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Better the devil you know perfectly sums up the challenge awaiting Alex Sanderson on Sunday when he attempts to guide Sale into the club’s second-ever Gallager Premiership final. The Sharks have been there just once before, in 2006 when they defeated Leicester in the final at Twickenham. Richard Wigglesworth was the starting Sale scrum-half that day and this weekend the soon-to-be England assistant will be at the AJ Bell… coaching the Tigers.

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Add to the mix how Sanderson and Wigglesworth spent many years working together at Saracens as assistant coach and player under Mark McCall and it all counts up to creating a fascinating dynamic around the sold-out semi-final in Manchester.

The pair were all sweetness and light on Wednesday night in London at the Gallagher Premiership end-of-season awards, but that wasn’t the only Sale orbit that Wigglesworth ventured into in the lead-up to the knockout contest. Warren Spragg, the Sale kicking coach, is an old schoolmate and former Sharks teammate of Wigglesworth… and guess who Spragg had around to his house last Sunday? Yes, you guessed it, a certain Richard Wigglesworth.

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Wigglesworth has only been a head coach since last December’s sudden exit of Steve Borthwick to take the England job, but Sanderson rates him as a better coach than him due to the fact that he is only a recently-retired player, someone who came off the bench in a European game just last December six months after he started in Leicester’s Premiership final title win over Saracens at Twickenham.

Asked to describe his rapport with the ex-Tigers scrum-half, Sanderson said: “He [Wigglesworth] was around at Warren Spragg’s house last Sunday, he is our transition kicking coach. He went to my school [Kirkham Grammar], we played together, I coached him – I didn’t really coach him that much, we worked together at Saracens and then for the last three years I would say I have mentored him, I have engaged with him in and around strategy and tactics for his coaching career.

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“I consider him a good friend and a friend of the family. He lives up in Hale, which is 20 minutes away, and in terms of similar alignment, there is probably no one in the Premiership who knows me better, who I know better per se by way of those things I have just talked about. In fact, if anything he is better than me because he has been a lot closer to the coal face, he has played more recently so that makes you have more fingers on the pulse, your ear is a little bit closer to the ground so to speak.

“So, for all those things, it is going to be interesting. What I am going after in his team, he will probably go after in ours. Seriously like, so that will be interesting. Where I feel privileged, where I feel lucky is the group I work with, the coaching group I work with – they have got cohesion, they have got trust and they challenge me so what you see is not a Saracens 2.0 version.

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“I believe we have the potential to be better. Of course I do, or else why are we in it? That is not because of me, that is because of this group I work with. I told them that, I told them I really appreciate them.”

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