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The 'cringey energy giver' who has ignited Sale post-Faf de Klerk

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

When World Cup winner Faf de Klerk said his goodbyes in Manchester and headed to Japan last summer, the path was clear for rookie England international Raffi Quirke to become Alex Sanderson’s first-choice No9. Except he hasn’t. Injuries have limited his availability and instead, it is the unheralded Gus Warr who has dominated in that position at Sale this season with the club galloping into the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals.

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It’s been quite the emergence for the 23-year-old who in previous seasons offset his positioning down the pecking order at the Sharks by embracing loan stints at Doncaster in the Championship. That was an apprenticeship very different from the fast-track emergence of Quirke, who was brought into the England Test fold as a 20-year-old following a flying start to the 2021/22 club season.

There was also Will Cliff to factor into the scrum-half equation, the 34-year-old veteran who has been on the Sale books since 2007/08 bar a couple of seasons at Bristol. Like Quirke, injury has bedeviled Cliff’s current season and the overall result has been for Warr to establish himself as Sanderson’s most-used go-to at nine in this post-de Klerk era.

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Sixteen starts Warr has made in his 18 Premiership appearances this team, with another five starts coming in Europe – exposure incomparable to his previous stats at Sale where he started just eight matches in 32 appearances since debuting in 2018/19 as a teenager.

What has ignited the transformation from squad fringe to being at the heart of the hustle and bustle that has Sale challenging for a first league title since 2006? “Consistency is an underestimation of what he brings,” said Sanderson when queried by RugbyPass about the unexpected establishment of Warr in the No9 shirt.

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“His decision-making is second to none in regard to how we want to manage the game and his execution of where to do that is the most consistent of all the scrum-halves that we have got. It’s such a boring description of someone who the team has been able to function around as well as we do because he makes the right decisions all the time and his service is second to none – he puts the ball on a six-pence. That’s the outcomes.

“He is a tough little b******. Like tougher than tough. He will put his head in Jasper Wiese’s spokes without question. He will do that down the touchline time and time again and gets up and does it again. I don’t know how his body handles it. He is annoying on the field as much as he is consistent. He is super competitive and as it is affecting an opposition, there is no quarter he gives physically or mentally to players who have been more established, who had a better pedigree and were set for greater things.

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“All of that comes down to the fact that this lad forever has been a second and third choice, has scrapped for contracts and been lower down the pecking order so has been so used to fighting to get there, to earn a spot, to keep a spot and now he is there. All the things he had to get right to put in place to do that have put him in really good stead at this point in time.

“He is not unflappable because no one is, but he is very tough mentally, very tough physically and the team has functioned, has played some of its best rugby with him at nine and that is huge considering the talent that is Raffi Quirke as we saw last week and that is super, super talented.”

What is Warr like in the Sale dressing room? “Really terrible chat – they love how bad it is. If there are little projects to do and we do them now and again, music videos, presentations for the lads for a little of craic, semi-quasi educational, Christmas songs for the academy, Guy helped them this year even though he is years over the academy, he is at the forefront of organising organised fun.

“He is integral – you have to be as a scrum-half to be selected as many times as he has. You have to be not just pivotal in terms of your ability to drive the game model, but also to drive the people and motivate them. He is a real energy giver, even though at times it is cringey how bad his craic is.”

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