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The 'bit rainy faced' tribute Sale have paid to Faf de Klerk

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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Sale boss Alex Sanderson has explained why Faf de Klerk will exit the Gallagher Premiership club at the end of this season with the highest of praise ringing in his ears following his five seasons in Manchester. The Springboks scrum-half arrived from the Super Rugby Lions in 2017 as a hugely remunerated marquee player but rather than just collect the cash, he has left a wonderful legacy according to the director of rugby who succeeded Steve Diamond 15 months ago.  

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The 30-year-old half-back is set for a switch to the Top League, a move that will take him back to Japan where he most memorably won the 2019 World Cup with South Africa, and he will head there with Sale feeling they got plenty of bang for their buck from de Klerk during his time in England. 

“Look, he was a great player when he came here but he probably wasn’t as highly regarded as he is now,” reckoned Sanderson when asked to sum up how de Klerk will be remembered at Sale when he leaves at the end of June. “Like, he has done amazing things here and with South Africa.

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“In terms of his own game, he wasn’t purely a livewire when he came here but he has added a side to his game that complements South Africa which is the kick, the kicking game, the game management, saving the legs of the big boys – he has fostered that while he has been at the club. He has been allowed to be himself but also bring that part of his game on while he has been here and in doing so he has won a World Cup.

“What he has brought from a game perspective he is the best example of a professional, how hard he works, always taking notes, always contributing. From an environmental perspective, he is a ball of energy, super positive all the time, always has a friendly face and a handshake in the morning with a smile. 

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“Those two things don’t always go hand in hand. There are a lot of professionals who are always a bit rainy faced because they have got to do this and keep driving that but he is not like that, he does it with a smile. And from a brand perspective, he was a big signing and has been a big part of the club to show the intent of Sale being something more than also-rans. For someone of his calibre to come and do what he has done, to be as committed as long as he has – which is five years – is a really good testament to this club and what we have been aspiring to achieve and will continue to aspire to achieve. Without him would you get a Raffi Quirke? He spent that much time with him and is so good with him. 

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“Would you get a Nye Thomas, who is starting for the England U20s and is a very similar sort Randallesque type of player? He has been inspirational for the region, for the club. He has certainly given as much if not more than what he has taken and that is what you want from a marquee player. Marquee players generally come for cash and if they end up just coming for the cash, they have that kind of mercenary attitude. It’s check-in, check out and the take the paycheque – but he hasn’t been like that. It has never seemed like that with him. He is eternally positive and has been brilliant to work with, really good to work with.”

It was Tuesday when Sale officially confirmed that de Klerk and fellow World Cup winner Lood de Jager would be leaving in a few months’ time, but Sanderson hasn’t been able to say goodbye without referencing the famed golden locks that the Springboks No9 is known for. “It’s his blonde hair and his unicorn-ness but it’s not a front, it’s not fake,” continued the director of rugby at his weekly media briefing ahead of this Saturday’s round of 16 Heineken Champions Cup encounter with Bristol. “That’s him but that is all you see, the little He-Man whereas he is a great deal more than that. 

“He likes to look good, no doubt, and he never looks more coiffured than he does on game day. His hair looks amazing. He comes in and it’s like a Vidal Sassoon advert, it’s just swishing around. But if you think that is what he is, that he is all show and no go, you get lulled into that false sense of security that maybe you can take him on around a ruck or maybe the base of a scrum and he just ends up crippling you. He is a lot tougher than what he might appear, a lot tougher than what his outward persona is. That in itself makes him a sports personality which is why everyone wants a piece of Faf – everyone wants to be Faf!”

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