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Sale admit Ford contact: 'I have had a conversation with George'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

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Sale boss Alex Sanderson has admitted he has already had a conversation with George Ford about the possibility that the out-of-favour England out-half could join the Sharks for next season after it was confirmed that AJ MacGinty is on his way from Manchester to Bristol for the 2022/23 campaign. No sooner was it unveiled on Wednesday that the 31-year-old, Dublin-born American international would be linking up with the Bears did it emerge that Ford was now a target for Sale. 

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The 28-year-old Ford has been in immense form this season at Leicester, responding magnificently to his painful England omission by going on to be voted the Gallagher Premiership player of the month for October. Ford is a regular visitor to his hometown of Saddleworth, which is just a short 24-mile spin away from Sale’s AJ Bell Stadium. He part-owns a coffee shop in the town with his brother Joe, while there is also the precedent that the out-half doesn’t sign an extension at a club that has released his father from their staff. 

Mike Ford led Bath to the 2015 Premiership final but he soon lost his head coach job there and it was followed by George signing for Tigers in 2017. Mike has now left his defence coach position at Leicester after his contract wasn’t renewed last summer under Steve Borthwick and it has heightened the likelihood that the out-half will now also move on. 

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This type of switch from Leicester to Sale was something that Manu Tuilagi made in the summer of 2020 and Sanderson has now confirmed he has been in touch with Ford about the possibility of him switching to Sale for the 2022/23 season. He told a Thursday media briefing: “I have had a conversation with George, yeah. I felt it went well. Best off asking him. I like the lad, love what he is about. He is very driven, still very ambitious and he is a family man, so he has shown a lot of the traits that would align itself very well here. But there is more that comes into play in these situations. It is so complicated. That is why I can’t call it for him.”

The Ford link with Sale has ironically emerged in the same week that the Sharks are due to visit Leicester on Saturday for a Premiership Cup tie. Sanderson added that Sale’s location so close to Saddleworth is an advantage that could work in their favour. “Yes it does (matter he is a local), and probably more so for him but you would probably have to pick that up with him. The boy is from Saddleworth and it is a professional game – it isn’t just about the paycheque. 

“I have said in the past what it means for me to be back (in Manchester) and to have some kind of influence on a place I was brought up and that is rare in this game, really rare. I feel very privileged. Anyone who comes from the north should want to use that factor if you are able to as an easy motivator and to make the north great.   

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“This (link with Ford) is all speculation and I don’t want to fan the fires. Just from my brief experience of agents or players saying one thing and then something happening completely differently the next day, I have no intention of counting chickens before they have hatched. I honestly couldn’t tell you. 

“We can only put our best case forward and let the chips fall where they may but it is a very positive case. We are a club with aspirations and investment and with good people involved so we are a strong runner. The rest is up to the other parties.”

Sanderson added that his chat with Ford was recent as was the confirmation to Sale by MacGinty that he was going to sign for Bristol. “Both of them very recently,” confirmed Sanderson about the discussions that took place with both out-halves.  

“The confirmation with AJ was kind of Monday-ish but to be honest when someone is keen to remain at a place from my own experience at Saracens there was no negotiation, it was just like I am happy, I’m good, it doesn’t matter what you pay me because I am happy whereas there were sounds from his agent right from the off that this would be his last contract, so negotiations began around that and took the course where it has taken us.

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“If I am being honest with myself looking back retrospectively, I could have picked up on some of those noises way back in September. When it happened I guess I wasn’t wholly surprised but I wholeheartedly accepted it… AJ is a brilliant lad and I have got a lot of time for the person he is, a great player as well playing probably some of his best rugby in his last twelve months here and as such he has gathered interest from organisations who want a ten of his quality. 

“He is at the point in the lifecycle of a player where it is important that he gets the most out of probably his last contract and he has unfortunately gone for a very lucrative deal down in Bristol. The success is we are all still amenable and have good relations still. Given the offer that was proposed, it’s probably the best thing for his family at this point in his career.

“We have looked at the need to fill the role. We have two very young lads [Kieran Wilkinson and Tom Curtis] who are going to be class as they progress. We have opened the door to negotiations with other fly-halves. It is a crucial area, a crucial position where you need someone of international class if you are ever going to challenge for silverware of which George Ford is one. He is world-class and is playing the best rugby he has played for a while as well. That is where we are at, the rest is speculation.”

Further cuts to the Premiership salary cap are planned for next season but Sanderson insisted that the possible arrival of Ford as a marquee player wouldn’t necessarily mean a deal couldn’t be extended with Lood de Jager, the Springboks lock whose deal expires next summer. “No, it doesn’t have to be one in, one out,” said the director of rugby who succeeded Steve Diamond as Sale boss last January.  

“This whole recruitment process I am finding challenging but it is part of the job, something that I am determined to become good at because I understand the necessity for the succession, succession planning not just for this season but seasons beyond, and to be able to wear the best hat for the club and to switch those hats for what is best for the player and the person because sometimes the two are contradictory. 

“That is the challenge that I am faced with, a brilliant challenge that is going to be the making of me as a coach moving forward, getting a handle on this. Then it is all part of the jigsaw. There are far smarter people out there with calculators who can tell me what you are allowed to spend, what you have to spend and then the ripple ramifications of getting in players with other people moving on. That is professional sport, that happens at every club every season and you have to stay on top of it.”

 

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