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'Twickenham's not enough, I want the cup... I'm not celebrating yet'

By PA
Rohan Janse van Rensburg /PA

Alex Sanderson is not content with simply a top-four place as the Sale Sharks director of rugby aims for Gallagher Premiership glory at Twickenham.

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Sale will feature in the play-offs for the first time since 2006 – the only occasion they have claimed the English title – but Sanderson still wants more from his squad.

They defeated fourth-placed Harlequins 45-12 on Friday to keep their hopes of a home semi-final alive and Sale’s boss has the title in his sights.

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“You’ve got to keep driving, there are three games left,” he said.

“Twickenham’s not enough, I want the cup. Everyone keeps saying, ‘you must be over the moon to make the play-offs?’ Well, I am, but we’ve got the opportunity (to win it). I’m not celebrating yet.”

Sanderson knows the challenge they will face, however, with Sale likely to play either Exeter Chiefs or Bristol Bears in the last four.

He said: “We’ve got to beat the top team maybe three times in one season and then, if not, Exeter twice, so the odds are stacked against us, but you would be a foolish person to bet against us.”

Sale will hope to have Manu Tuilagi back for next week’s clash against Exeter, a game which will decide who gets a home semi-final.

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Tuilagi was forced to self-isolate after coming into close contact with a member of staff that had tested positive for Covid-19.

Sanderson says, however, that the powerhouse centre should return to training on Thursday.

“Manu’s in great form but that is the environment we’re in,” he added. “Even if you’ve had a PCR test, a lateral flow test and they’re negative, you’ve still got to isolate.”

The Sharks evidently did not need Tuilagi on Friday as they thrashed Harlequins and ended the Londoners’ chances of a home match in the play-offs.

It was a disappointing evening for Quins, who made 11 changes to their team, but coach Adam Jones does not believe that this result has dealt a psychological blow to his side.

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“A lot of our boys have played a lot of minutes and we want them fresh for the semi-finals. When you get to the semi-finals, everyone’s good anyway,” Jones said.

“If you get to a European semi-final, everyone’s good, if you get to a Premiership semi-final, everyone’s a good side.

“Whoever we play on the day is going to be tough. We’ve managed to rest a few of our boys so we will get them firing for the Newcastle game and then on to the semi-finals.

“We’ve lost games and come back, it’s not like we’ve not lost a game since January. (When we have) we’ve bounced back pretty quickly the week after.

“We need to beat Newcastle to give us a nice bit of momentum but we know we’re in the semi-finals.

“We wanted boys to put their hands up tonight. Certainly, the usual suspects did but some probably didn’t.”

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Jon 2 hours ago
Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

> McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role. I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged. > The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings. I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone. I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

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