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Sanderson reveals growing list of Sale absentees ahead of Euro clash

By Chris Jones
George Ford of Sale Sharks arrives ahead of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Sale Sharks at Recreation Ground on March 24, 2024 in Bath, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

Alex Sanderson’s bid to win the European Challenge Cup has suffered a serious blow with Sale Sharks flanker Ernst van Rhyn, the former junior Springboks captain, ruled out of action for at least a month after limping out of the impressive Gallagher Premiership 41-5 win over Exeter Chiefs, joining England outside half George Ford on the unavailable list.

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It means Sale have to head to Bridgend for their last 16 clash with Ospreys without van Rhyn, their top tackler, and their in-form No10 who is being rested under the agreement with the Rugby Football Union over the amount of game time international squad members are allowed in the season.

Sanderson, who won the Challenge Cup as a player with Sale in 2002, is already wary of what he expects to be “a proper battle” at the Brewery Field where he believes his team will face 10,000 partisan fans “and 23 of them against the 23 of us”.

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Jake White on Leinster experience

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Jake White on Leinster experience

While the loss of Ford was expected, the injury to van Rhyn is a significant setback which is likely to ensure that Ben Curry plays again in the back row after signalling his return from injury with a barnstorming performance against Exeter.

While Sale will make some changes to the team that beat Exeter, Sanderson is adamant the club wants to win the trophy for a third time having also lifted it in 2005.

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Ospreys
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He said: “We are in it to win it – that is for certain and it is really important that having ended a losing run we maintain some momentum on the back of last week. We have to compulsory rest George and there is some tactical rotation but we believe we have a strong enough team to compete and give ourselves a shot at going through.

“Ernst is out for four to six weeks and that is about as good we could have hoped for with the ankle injury. He is eternally positive but will be a big loss to us in the Cup and the Premiership.

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“Ben Curry surprised us all by how good he was in his first game back and while he was gassed when he came off, just think where he will be in two weeks time having played very little game time minutes. We felt we had been missing that physicality and resolve not to get broken in defence and he led the charge.

“Facing the Ospreys in Bridgend is no less a challenge than Leinster in Dublin or the Stormers in Cape Town and it will be a cauldron and a proper battle, particularly at the breakdown. The Ospreys keep teams close and are tough to face and we have to understand the threat level. If you don’t do that right, it is a long way home – five hours on the bus.”

Sanderson did appear as a player at the Brewery Field, a pitch that was a mud bath when the Ospreys played Cardiff over the Christmas period this season. He added: “Knock-out rugby in a hostile environment is all part of your growth as a team. There is more at stake and these games and they rarely run out of steam.”

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