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Sale reckon Solomona return is 'one of our proudest achievements'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Alex Sanderson has hailed the return to Premiership action by ex-England winger Denny Solomona as one of his proudest achievements so far during his eight months in charge as the Sale director of rugby. It was January when the former Saracens assistant inherited the squad left behind by Steve Diamond but the 28-year-old Auckland-born player had made just a single appearance until coming off the bench at London Irish.

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Solomona, who has spoken candidly in the past to RugbyPass about his mental health issues, was introduced as a 52nd-minute replacement at Brentford for Simon Hammersley, his first run in the league since a mid-February start at Harlequins. Speculation that he was on his way to another club followed after he had fallen out of favour. However, the five-cap England back has come through an energising pre-season to become part of Sanderson’s plans again.

It was last week, having missed out on selection for the opening round win over Bath, that Solomona posted a message on social media about trusting the process and he was rewarded with a comeback appearance in the draw at Irish. That return to the team left Sanderson and his fellow coaches chuffed with how they had handled the situation.

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Ollie Phillips guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Ollie Phillips guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

“As a group of coaches it’s probably one of our proudest achievements,” enthused Sanderson when asked by RugbyPass at his weekly Sale media briefing to give some insight into the process of getting Solomona back up to speed and available again for selection. 

“I was just watching him now chatting to Warren Spragg and all of us who had some involvement (with Denny) have been most impressed by him but happy with ourselves with how we have managed to get (back) a brilliant player who has had some mental issues and everyone is fully aware of that, he has been to the press about it in the past and has had mental issues, but he is now flying because he is super motivated.”

Domestic bliss has also played its part, Sanderson continuing: “He has got a little girl, is in love with his wife and these things make a difference. He has that support base that he perhaps didn’t have in the past. He feels backed by us as coaches, he is fitter than he has been, he is looking sharp, he has got a very close group of mates in Rohan (Janse van Rensburg) and Manu (Tuilagi), both of whom understand how excellence breeds excellence in terms of them pushing each other and pushing him.

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“So he has got a group around him, he is backed by the coaches, he has got love at home and as a result, he is flying. I’m not praying because he didn’t need my prayers, and I am just hoping he plays as well as he trains because he has been pretty rare in training.”

Sanderson’s career in coaching up until 2021 had been as an assistant at Saracens and the situation with Solomona was an early test for him as the rookie Sale boss. “Yeah, yeah, I had to step back a little bit more and let other coaches be a bit more personable, a bit more hands-on with him. I found that difficult.

“My comfort blanket is with the players, you know, my comfort blanket is with the team and working on performance, so when things get stressy you tend to go back to what you know, don’t you? So I am constantly having an eye on the lads and their short-term performance and having to have that step back… it was a bit different.

“Different because he [Solomona] is a different person and they are all different, aren’t they, and that is the challenge and it is the blessing because it keeps the job interesting, renewed and fresh every day because you have that variety in personalities that you have to manage and try and get the best out of.”

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Sanderson has now challenged Solomona to keep getting selected by Sale, referencing what was said post-game last Sunday in London and the undoubted talent he knows the player possesses. “Denny, are you going again? That was the message. Are you going again? That is the only tip I can give you,” he said before focusing on the potential he wants to see realised on a consistent basis.

“We have these highlights reels all the time before we play teams and a lot of it is from clips from when we have played teams before and when he first came here (in 2016 from rugby league’s Castleford), he was sensational. That was what got him into the England team, his finishing ability to spot a gap and not just that, he is very strong in the air as well.

“So in his kicking game when people kick contestables off nine he is super strong in the air. A lot of that being able to finish, backing yourself, going through a hole, being confident to go in the air, a lot of that is confidence, it has to be and these players back themselves so if you are not backing yourself off the field you are never going to back yourself in the field so it’s a very holistic view that we have taken with him. 

“He is the one who has driven it, we have just facilitated it, and he had earned himself this position, he has got himself back into an opportunity where in getting it right, I can’t see him not competing for international honours if he gets back to where was prior to lockdown.”

Asked whether the fitness regime Solomona has adopted in recent months has had any similarities to what the kilogramme shedding Tuilagi has been up to with midfield partner van Rensburg, Sanderson replied: “He hasn’t been on a weight loss programme with those two but he does sit next to them every team meeting and things like that so I know he has taken a lot of inspiration from them in terms of sticking to plan, sticking to a task.

“His first test was not getting selected in that first game because he had worked as hard as he did and he probably expected to be involved and he wasn’t. He got over that and still trained really well and that was a true sign he is on the right path. When the first sign of an excuse for him not to pitch up came, he rode it so I am looking forward to him going and playing.”

 

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Sale reckon Solomona return is 'one of our proudest achievements'

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