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'We are in the middle of a bit of adversity on and off the field' - Sanderson

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

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Sale boss Alex Sanderson got a touch emotional when he reflected on his rollercoaster first year as a Gallagher Premiership directory of rugby. The long-serving Saracens assistant took the top job in Manchester on January 15 last year, got down to business with a win at Leicester in his maiden outing in charge 14 days later and has been going like the clappers ever since. 

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Heading into this Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup tie with Ospreys at the AJ Bell, the Sharks have won 19 and drawn one of the 34 matches played on his watch, a resume that included a rollicking eight-game unbeaten run that took them into last season’s Gallagher Premiership semi-finals at Exeter

Results have been patchy this term but recent months haven’t been without reward. It was not so long ago that Sanderson revealed his joy at opening a bottle of wine at home with his dementia-affected dad following a dramatic Friday night success for Sale over Harlequins, a vibrant celebration that he will hold dear.

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Rob Kearney and Alfie Barbeary – A Lion and a Wasp
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Rob Kearney and Alfie Barbeary – A Lion and a Wasp

The relentless pace of the past year has never relented, especially with the unexpected adding to the ebb and flow. Take the diverse issues that confronted Sanderson just the other week: there was the arrest of an unnamed Sale player, the uncertainty of trip to France and then the sudden absence of their out-half AJ MacGinty who learned just hours before the club was to fly to Clermont that his wife was being induced and a baby daughter was on the way.  

How does Sanderson sum up the hectic twelve months? “I came here to grow a group of players who probably lacked the support, the infrastructure and maybe some belief in themselves,” he explained after getting asked by RugbyPass for his reflection on his inaugural year as a rugby club boss.  

“Players and coaches, that was the remit and I have ended up learning more about myself, growing myself over the last year and I guess that is the way of it, the coaching, you are more exposed as a DoR. I’m starting to think ‘what am I doing?’ because I could have had an easier life. That is just the minority at times. Most of the time I am like, ‘How good is this!’ 

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“It’s really enjoyable and stretching and I still feel like there is so much more, so when you feel like that, feel like you can move the needle with other people to stretch and grow and help an organisation, help a group of people who you like go from one place to another place, that is empowering, that gets you out of bed in the morning, so I am really, really fortunate I guess to sum it up. Lucky to be given the opportunity.”

What does he cherish most from the experience so far? “It’s about the memories, it is definitely about the memories, the fleeting memories of some of the big performances and there have been some big uns, let’s not forget. Even this season there have been some pretty memorable ones. 

“I am of the belief and it is weird – we are in the middle of a bit of adversity on and off the field and I know from some experience, although I haven’t been in this situation before in my career, I know now from lesser adversity that when you get through it with a group of people, the experience of doing that is far more lasting and far more impactful on your life and their life as a group than any one-off occasion and we are in it right now.

“I said to the boys when I turned up, we are going to have to live it all boys because this is what it is about, the journey. We are going to have to love the winning because everyone loves the winning, but we are going to have to love the struggle, we are going to have to love both sides of it because that is what it is going to take. 

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“We have had a good time with some success, now we are finding out whether we are going to be strong enough to stick through this time of adversity and live it just the same. I have just told you I am enjoying it because we have a good group of lads and I feel like we are going to make a turn.” 

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