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Saracens confirm new head and defence coaches in wake of Sanderson's exit

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Mark McCall has reacted to the loss of Alex Sanderson, his defence and forwards coach at Saracens, by promoting from within at the London club, appointing skills coach Joe Shaw as head coach and upgrading Adam Powell from senior academy coach to defence coach. 


Sale confirmed on Friday the RugbyPass exclusive from last week that the long-serving Sanderson would become their new director of rugby following the departure last month of Steve Diamond for personal reasons. 

Saracens have a long history of promoting from within when it comes to filling staff vacancies and the exit of Sanderson has quickly proven to be no different with the elevation of Shaw and Powell to fill the void.  

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A former Sale, Northampton, Newcastle and England 7s player, Shaw joined Saracens as an academy coach and moved into the senior team skills coaching role in 2013. Powell, meanwhile, played 135 times for Saracens before ending his career at Newcastle and then becoming senior academy coach at Saracens in 2017. 

“If you have watched what we have done over the last ten, eleven years, what we try to do in the organisation is promote from within when we can,” said McCall at a media session ahead of Saracens’ opening match on Saturday in the Trailfinders Cup, a pre-season tournament that will lead into the start of the Championship in March. 

“We do that in the playing group, our academy forms the foundation of our playing group. And similarly with staff as well, when there is an opportunity to promote from within we take that. In terms of the coaching staff, Adam Powell, who has been at the top end of our academy staff, will step up into a senior role as defence coach. Adam is somebody who has had a long association with Saracens. And Joe Shaw, who has been part of the coaching team for the last eight years, will step up into the head coach position.”


McCall added that he was optimistic this double appointment was the right way for Saracens to go after the loss of Sanderson. “I’m very confident,” he said. “We have this philosophy, this promote from within philosophy, for a very long time. 

“I have been coaching with the current coaching staff – Dan Vickers, Kevin Sorrell, Joe Shaw, Ian Peel – for a very, very long time and Adam has been more or less with us for a fair bit of that as well. We are a team that works very well together. Alex is great coach, a great person and a great friend of ours. 

“We were very determined when this began years ago that the club would never be reliant on one person. It would be a very poor organisation, a very average organisation, which does that. Down the years we have had some very significant people who have left the club, Brendan (Venter), Andy Farrell, Paul Gustard, Steve Borthwick, and Alex is one of the great contributors to our journey and our story these last ten, eleven years. 

“But we have got some great people left in the club who are very excited with the playing group we have assembled for the 2021/22 season. I have said to you what the coaching staff is going to look like. I have worked with our performance manager Phil Morrow for 20 years now, so we have got a lot of very good people who are very good at their jobs in the organisation.”


Referring specifically to the departure of Sanderson to Sale, McCall said his assistant will head to Manchester with the best wishes of Saracens. “We’re delighted for Alex. What we pride at the heart of the club is the development of the individual in a professional sense and as people and we feel very fortunate to have had Alex for as long as we have had, 17 years. 

He is an outstanding coach, an outstanding person, and we are delighted that he has got this opportunity to progress his career. I talked to him a lot over the last four, five weeks. Yes, it was a very, very hard decision for him but we all respect the decision he has made.” 

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Saracens confirm new head and defence coaches in wake of Sanderson's exit