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The 'sweet spot' Sale hope to hit loaning out their young players

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

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Sale Sharks will look to strengthen their fledgling relationship with Caldy after the Wirral outfit won promotion to the Championship for the 2022/23 season at the expense of Sale FC, the side that Alex Sanderson’s Gallagher Premiership club had been providing most of its academy stars to.

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Whereas Caldy only made use of Elliot Gourley and to a lesser extent Nye Thomas over the course of their title-winning National 1 campaign, the Premiership club were heavily invested in the namesake amateur club on its doorstep in Manchester.

Sharks transition coach Neil Briggs coaches at Sale FC but no sooner was the grassroots promotion race decided against them was he on the blower to Caldy inquiring how Sanderson and co could help the promotion winners make the step up to a level of rugby they have not participated in before.

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Caldy head coach Matt Cairns, an ex-Saracens teammate of Sanderson, has also visited the Sale training ground at Carrington and plans are afoot for a pre-season friendly between the Premiership and Championship clubs to further bolster relations.

The Sale belief is that the more their academy players play second-tier matches rather than being in the gym, the closer they will be to making a Premiership first-team breakthrough under Sanderson.

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Asked by RugbyPass if the Sharks will offer more of their young players to Caldy in an effort to help steel the Championship newcomers, Sanderson said: “It’s a huge possibility. We filled Sale FC up with a few more of our players post-Christmas, up to a maximum of six because that is what the laws stipulate, and I pushed to get them promoted.

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“They are just across the road, they’re 50 metres away and Neil Briggs, our transition coach, coaches them so we have a good link there. But knowing Matt Cairns, we all went down to watch the game that decided Nat 1 at Caldy and it was a great day, they had barbecues on and the banks were full.

It was a brilliant day for that level of rugby for the north and Caldy won and went nuts as we know, went absolutely crazy and Sale FC went home with the tail between their legs but the next day we were on the phone to Matt. Neil Briggs, who had to swallow a bit of his own pride, was saying, ‘How can we help you and help us to make this a good thing for the north?’

“Our lads don’t have to go down to a Doncaster or a Cov where it is too far to train whereas they could nip across 45 minutes, we can supply them with some good players on a semi-permanent, dual-registered basis and they get the best level of rugby closer to home, so they have got a decent support base and don’t have to travel all the time.

“Matt Cairns has been in, he is bringing his coaches down over the pre-season, we are in the process of arranging our first warm-up game against them down at their place to have a drink and fully integrate ourselves with Caldy as we were with Sale FC.

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“We will still use FC because we have a big batch of academy players coming through, so FC still hold a good position and prospects for some of our young lads but for those who need that level up under Premiership then Caldy is probably is the next step.”

Emerging out of a pandemic that put a stop to so much rugby at developmental levels, how important it is for promising youngsters at a Premiership club such as Sale to now get as much game time as possible to accelerate their progress?

“They reckon 15 to 20 games is the sweet spot for these lads to physically develop in the gym and get the learnings on the field,” continued Sanderson. “It was the same for the lads who played for FC, we got to Christmas time and we just couldn’t get them into a place unless they were training full-time.

“We couldn’t get them Coventry, couldn’t get them into Donny which is fair enough because you want your lads there on a Tuesday, Thursday night to play at the weekend.

“That wasn’t the case with Caldy so much and it wasn’t the case with FC, they could train with us and go down on Thursday for the one session and play. Elliot revelled in the most consistent rugby but go through the list, Ethan Caine, Joe Bedlow, Connor Doherty, James Harper, Callum Ford, Jack Metcalf, Joe Carpenter, Nye Thomas…  all of them who played Nat 1, got their 15, 20-game stint in that league and it brought them on.

“It kept them involved, it kept them learning. We have now sent five lads out to Australia to Sydney to play another eight to ten fixtures to make up for that covid period and we will get them back mid-pre-season. We thought their best development would be on the rugby field and not in the gym over the course of pre-season.

“Rugby is the best way to learn, not doing drills, not just getting big and strong. It’s getting out there and playing men’s rugby so it is great for them, it’s a big part of the long term plan, to get games under their belt.”

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