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Sanderson: 'Legacy of all that South African influence' at Sale

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Alex Sanderson has farewelled the high watermark of the South African influence at Sale following the confirmation on Tuesday afternoon that Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager – their pair of 2019 World Cup-winning Springboks – will exit the Gallagher Premiership club at the end of this season.

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The director of rugby insisted it wasn’t the end of an era, that Sale will continue to keep an open mind about the recruitment of South Africans, but he admitted times have now move on from when his predecessor Steve Diamond began the heavy recruitment of the southern hemisphere players who formed the backbone of the squad Sanderson inherited in January 2021. 

With the reduced Premiership salary cap now beginning to bite as well as England no longer being as attractive a destination as it was pre-covid for South Africans, Sale under Sanderson have decided it is for the best that they now dilute their southern hemisphere dependance.

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With the likes of England internationals George Ford and Jonny Hill already signed for next season, along with other indigenuous talents such as Tom O’Flaherty, the squeeze on who they can afford to keep with the salary cap reduced from £6.4million to £5m and the cutback from two marquee players outside that cap to one across the league has had a major effect on the complexion of the Sale squad for the upcoming 2022/23 season.    

JP du Preez will be joining Glasgow and Rohan Janse van Rensburg is another tipped to exit a roster that still features other South Africans in the guise of Akker van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen, the three other de Preezs, Jono Ross and Cobus Wiese – all players recruited before Sanderson’s arrival at Sale.  

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It was an hour prior to the official 5pm confirmation on Tuesday that de Klerk and de Jager will leave at the end of June that Sanderson fronted his weekly media briefing at which he pondered how things were now changing at the club 15 months into his tenure. The irony about the announcement that his two World Cup winners are leaving in a matter of months, though, was that it was confirmed just weeks before Sale play host to three Springboks coaches in Manchester, including head coach Jacques Nienaber.

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“The era is not over,” shrugged Sanderson when asked at his briefing by RugbyPass if the exits of de Klerk and de Jager signalled the end for the Sale penchant for recruitment from South Africa. “The relationship that Dimes [Diamond] had with agents who had links to South Africa isn’t the same that I have. The reasons and desires that people have to come to the club, or at least the ones that have plucked on the emotional heartstrings of the lads we have recruited, that is different rhetoric than what Dimes used.

“Perhaps I am going after people who generally are northern apart from O’Flaherty, so they have got that in them. They are looking to come to a place that is building more of that so it is a slightly different prospect to what it was for Dimes which was a stack of money, it had to be back then. So yes it’s slightly different. I have got the South African coaches coming down in two weeks so I do appreciate our lads who are South African. All the brothers and Coenie, they are a big part of the team but it is shifting. 

“Look, this wasn’t part of the plan to have this much movement. There are other factors aside from myself coming in that have led to a lot more contract negotiations than I would have thought were going to happen. The salary cap is another thing that has happened and covid – we know all the mitigating circumstances and England is a far less attractive place for a lot of those South Africans from the other side. You can do the research but I guess there is less South Africans coming in full stop post covid and because of the salary cap.”

Asked what the South African legacy will be at the club, Sanderson added: “There is a no-nonsense, gritty physicality about South Africans, a hard-working, gritty physicality which dovetails with the archetypal northern stereotype. It’s been a good place, it’s as much a place they have brought on and grown, it’s a good home for that type of person anyway. That is why they fitted in so well. the legacy? Faf, as good as he is in the breakdown, is still superphysical and competitive and aggressive. The legacy of all that South African influence will continue to run deep in whatever side Sale manages to put out next season.”

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Felix Jones, Andy Edwards and Nienaber are due at Sale on Friday, April 22, after regulation nine red tape prevented the Springboks from meeting all of their English-based South Africans at the same time in London on Sunday, April 24. “These guys wanted to see all the lads on the Sunday in London and I’d no problem with that. But even though it was the Sunday and everyone had the day off and they could have seen everyone at the same time there was red tape to go through to make it all official and they couldn’t do it for some reason, not everyone (across the Premiership) would agree. 

“But it is important for them to see the lads and we had such a good conversation on the phone in terms of trying to align what we want out of them, what South Africa wants out of them, they said we will come up and visit you. It just so happens we are having a games day, a little bit of volleyball, a little bit of fitness, we have got Brian McDermott coming in to give us a little chat about his life story and then we are going to have a few drinks, so we have invited them to all of that. We’ll have a good time.”

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