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The 'mega' Quirke reaction when 'told by Eddie he had three games'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Sale boss Alex Sanderson has revealed the depth of his admiration for the maturity shown by young Raffi Quirke in his recent comeback from a serious injury which resulted in his recall to the England squad for the upcoming Autumn Nations Series. It was last April when the then 20-year-old scrum-half suffered a 40 per cent torn-at-the-tendon hamstring setback when trying to halt the breaking Semi Radradra in a Heineken Champions Cup tie at the AJ Bell.

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It meant that instead of seeing out his breakthrough season with England by going on their end-of-season tour to Australia, the now-21-year-old Quirke was left to nurse his way back to health without adding to the two caps earned last November when he debuted off the bench versus the Wallabies at Twickenham and then scored a try the following week when used as a sub against the Springboks.

The Quirke comeback at Sale wasn’t without its anxiety. He had been warned by Eddie Jones he only had a short window to impress and then a few bumps meant it wasn’t until the October 8 win by the Sharks at Premiership champions Leicester that he finally managed to get back on the field.

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However, that second-half effort as a replacement and another eye-catching contribution as a starter six days later in the home victory over London Irish resulted in Jones naming him as one of the three scrum-halves in the England squad that will assemble in Jersey for five days’ training from this Monday.

That selection illustrated how Quirke was true to the words he had spoken six months ago when he originally learned he was set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines.

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At the time, Sanderson said: “He just found out he needs an operation about two or three days ago and before going in, he was saying, ‘I’m going to come back stronger, I’m going to come back better’. He’d already reframed it in his mind as an opportunity to physically be better and be more advanced in his skill set in the same way Tom Curry did when he got injured early on in his career.”

With Quirke now set to feature in his third Sale comeback game this Sunday when his club host Harlequins in the Premiership, Sharks boss Sanderson told RugbyPass how impressed he has been with the youngster’s excellent return. “I’m actually surprised at how good and quickly he has come back, how he hasn’t chased things in games,” he explained.

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“Seemingly he has waited for the opportunity because it is so easy for a young lad to want to impress knowing he had three games – he was told by Eddie he had three games (to get in the England squad). And yet for him to wait for his opportunities to attack and chase everything in defence, he has just been mega. He is still as energetic and enthusiastic around the place like a kid at Christmas. Still a bit of a competition winner around the place!

“But he talks with a seniority and maturity that he didn’t have last year in the meetings, he is leading well in meetings. I have been deliberately backing off and letting him get on with it. Like I say, he has been surprising me in all the areas he has worked hard on. And he has worked hard in every area.

“We sent him away to Australia just for a personal development trip where he met up with a lot of people from the rugby league clubs out there and he has made some decent friends who he has caught up with, guys who played for Samoa and for Penrith. That was the first part of his widening of what it is to be an elite player.

“That has given him some perspective. I know it has because he took some things from those lads. We have been really strict on his loading when he did come back. He came back four weeks after we wanted him back because of a few hiccups. Any player in that (situation) could have gotten frustrated and said they needed to get back to playing, but he understood the importance of the robustness he needed so that shows maturity.

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“It has been quite a long road from his operation to now and if you look at all the things he has done, I’m not that surprised when you get to the point that he is performing as well as he has. It is because he has worked for it. He is just a quite special player and a special person. I believe that.”

With seasoned Springboks international Faf de Klerk no longer at Sale, there was always going to be an emphasis on Quirke taking over that position and quickly accelerating. “He has taken it on himself now,” continued Sanderson.

Faf went and that (stint) took Raffi to that point but the last six months have mainly been on him and the environment helps, he can rise or fall in this environment. It’s probably quite easy to do both but he has taken all of the time he has had and has made the most of it from June.”

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