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'There is nothing in my bones that wants to beat Saracens more'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Ex-Saracens assistant Alex Sanderson is a touch mischievous, claiming he struggles to remember the fixtures schedule that his current club Sale have once they get next Saturday’s new Gallagher Premiership season opener versus Bath out of the way. He claims he had to look up the calendar rather than know off the top of his head that a trip to London Irish is what is pencilled in for the Sharks in round two of the 2021/22 English league.   

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However, the one fixture he doesn’t haven’t any hesitation knowing all about is next November’s clash between Sale, the club he joined last January as their rookie director of rugby, and Saracens, the serial trophy winners where he earned his stripes as a long-serving assistant under Mark McCall. 

It’s the first time their paths will have crossed since their parting and the round nine fixture on November 28 in Manchester – which takes place eight days after his Springboks contingent led by Faf de Klerk wrap up their Test year at Twickenham versus England – is sure to emotionally test Sanderson in a way he hasn’t yet experienced during his eight months so far in charge at the Sharks.  

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McCall has been a regular sounding board for Sanderson ever since he decided at the top of the year that his rugby future was best served in Manchester and not in London and it will be interesting how that rapport evolves now that Sale are a rival of Saracens and not just a club the Londoners were looking up at from the Championship during the closing few months of the 2020/21 Premiership season and egging their old boy on go well while he was settling in. 

“I have looked at that Saracens game and I do know when it is now,” said Sanderson when asked by RugbyPass about a date in the Premiership at the AJ Bell Stadium that will surely carry some extra oomph for a director of rugby still learning his trade as a boss. “We have got a bye week the week after and it’s the week that the South Africans come straight back off after the autumn internationals, so I’d look at rotation all the way until at Christmas. 

“There is nothing in my bones that wants to beat Saracens more because that is what you do with the people that you love, your brothers, whoever it is. It’s not just the points, it’s bragging rights. They know that and they feel the same, but I’m not about to let my heart overrule the head with regards to what is the best thing for these players when they come back. If they have had four (Test) games on the trot then they need a rest. We’ll take that as we come to it, take into account where they are at and what the best chances are of us winning that game.”

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Sanderson reckons Saracens are deserving Premiership title favourites on their return to the top flight and while his admiration of them is no secret, what does his old pal McCall make of Sale? “His feedback has been constant because I call him constantly,” he explained. 

He was really supportive in some of the first games in terms of the shift in the mentality that we had on the field and then latterly in our ability to close games out which wasn’t one of Sale’s former traits and that is through a shift in the coaching methodology, how we are trained in the week. 

“We share a lot of very similar principles in terms of rotation and looking after international players which I have had some discussion with the South Africans and the one English lad we have got. He [McCall] is nothing but supportive, nothing but supportive, he is a great lad and that hasn’t waned over the course of the pre-season after he has got into the Premiership.”

What words from McCall most stand out for Sanderson? “It’s not his advice, which is always sound. It’s more the man that he is that has inspired me to be a better DoR on a day to day basis, kind of the values and the principles that he lives by which I still aspire to attain in many ways and to do that for the length of time that he has done it shows that is him as a person and not him playing a part of filling a role. 

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“One of those, which is the first thing I said to the lads, is honesty, being true to yourself as in telling the truth you can never be done by the truth and in so many ways it sets you free. You can’t fool them [players], they are smart guys. You are going to get done at some point if you start playing mind games. I will endeavour to remain as I can for their best interests and for the club.”

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'There is nothing in my bones that wants to beat Saracens more'

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