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Alex Sanderson on Sale Sharks flying the flag for Northern rugby

Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson has said his Sale Sharks team need to prove their no ‘flash in the pan’ to grow Rugby Union in the north.

The Sharks find themselves smack bang in Football town, with Premier League powerhouses Manchester United and Manchester City within the same catchment area. Rugby League sides Salford Red Devils, St Helens, Wigan Warriors, Leigh Leopards and Warrington Wolves also compete for the same eyes within the local area too.

Speaking to the media today, Sanderson detailed the need to build a title winning team to fly the flag for Rugby Union in the north: “I feel like at times we’re fighting a tide. We’re trying to change the perception of Northern Rugby in the North West, and Newcastle are doing in the North East, to be a brand of rugby that people want to watch, to be a team that people want to get behind.”

He added: “We’re getting there and I think you’ll see it from Newcastle. I think you’ll see how proud of a team they are this weekend. How we’re talking and training, I’m sure you’ll see a team that’s hell-bent on getting to the levels that we achieved last year.”

“Just because we got there last season doesn’t mean we’ll get there this year. We’ve got to be able to back up, we’ve got to have consistency in our preparation, and by de facto performance, to of warrant a Northern team being not just a flash in the pan but a powerhouse moving forward. That’s the aim, I said that to Simon three years ago now. We’re trying to build something that last’s here and if you do that then you’ll get a hardcore following, you will continue to get sell-out crowds and we’ll be staking a claim and hopefully being a bit more a bit more fashionable with the neutral fans and the wider masses.”

Sale Sharks now prepare to face fellow Northerners Newcastle Falcons this weekend, in a game that will hopefully showcase the best of Northern Rugby Union.

Bringing in Northern players

Tom and Ben Curry-Credit: IMAGO

In recent seasons, Sale have began to celebrate their homegrown or northern players. Curry’s Ben and Tom, Asher Opoku-Fordjour and Bevan Rodd are just some of the players to have come via the Sharks system, and George Ford, originally from Oldham, also boasts proud Northern routes.

This is something the club, and in particular Cheshire native Sanderson, are particularly proud of; and the DoR detailed how recruiting players from the region is part of a long-term plan.

“The vast majority of the squad are home grown, with that South African steel or the odd rare bit of talent to add to the gene pool. We’re looking to retain, to recruit from within, retain players who have been through our system. I think that is starkly reflected in our recruitment and retention policy. They’re all key to be part of this moving forward.”

The academy at Sale is only going from strength to strength too. This season, the u18s finished second in the Northern pool, and ended the season with four wins and one draw from six games. They also secured six bonus points in their six games too.

Alex Sanderson on emotional draw of home

Alex Sanderson-Credit: IMAGO

Sanderson spent the bulk of his career playing for the Sharks. He began his career with the club in 1998, and went onto captain the side and notch 90 appearances before seeing out his playing days at Saracens.

The pull to return to his first club, and back to the North of England, was obviously a big factor in joining as Director of Rugby, but he’s only now realised the true nature of his homecoming.

“Coming back home, I didn’t think it would be as big a motivating factor as it has been. It’s something I have to take myself away from because when you’re playing for a region, you realise your influence could affect a kid picking up a ball and playing the game, it almost becomes too much because you have to focus on the game at the weekend.

He also joked it makes rainy days a bit easier to manage: “Certainly on the days when it’s raining, which it is every other day, those are the days that in the past I’ve found difficult to motivate yourself with the right energy to come in but It makes it an easier task.”