Alex Sanderson hails his Sale Sharks after reaching Premiership final

‘I’m so proud that our reach in the north is expanding’: Alex Sanderson hails his hometown Sale Sharks after reaching first Premiership final since 2006, helping earn rugby a deserved share of Manchester’s rich sporting pie

  • Sale Sharks want to grow the passion for rugby union in north-east England 
  • Alex Sanderson’s side have made a huge effort by making the Premiership final 
  • Fly-half George Ford wants to inspire the next generation with Sale’s success 

Sale might have reached their first Premiership final since 2006, but there is more than just the thought of on-field glory driving them to success this season.

Alex Sanderson’s Sharks have had a fine campaign and now only Saracens stand between them and lifting English rugby’s biggest domestic trophy.

They will meet at Twickenham a week on Saturday. Manchester-based Sale have are fuelled by northern grit. In an area where football and rugby league dominate, the club are hoping to grow the popularity of union. 

To a certain extent, they have already succeeded. The AJ Bell Stadium was sold out for their semi-final win over Leicester.

It was a fantastic rugby occasion with a febrile atmosphere. Sale’s employees wore shirts with the slogan ‘northern rugby matters’ on them.

Alex Sanderson hopes that Sale’s run to the Premiership final will boost Rugby union up north

Saracens are the only team in the way of Sale Sharks, following their 21-13 win over Leicester 

It is clear Sale have a bigger purpose to play for this term.

Director of rugby Sanderson played for and now coaches the club. His team also contains a spine of players from the north of England.

‘I was blinded by stress but every now and again I turned round and you could hear it (the crowd),’ said Sanderson after Sale reached Twickenham with a 21-13 win over Leicester.

‘It was mega. Buzzing. So noisy. You need occasions like this so people come back. I’m so proud that, potentially, our reach in the north is expanding. There are bigger crowds coming and the buzz is better. 

‘It’s a humbling addition to the role you might be inspiring some kid to pick up a ball.’

Asked if the passion Sale’s players feel for their area can give his team an extra edge, an emotional Sanderson’s response was unequivocal.

‘Jeez, it matters,’ he said. ‘Imagine the scenario where players actually played for the shirt, the badge, and the area. It’s gone out of the game! Right now, we’re flying the flag.

‘I’m super proud of that. I can’t talk too much about it because I start to cry and get too emotional. To come to this team – the team I played for, captained, that my brother played for, that my dad played against – it’s a bit of a dream. Then I have to remind myself dreams don’t come true.

Sanderson was blown away by the crowd’s reaction to their semi-final against Leicester Tigers

‘I’m so ingrained in this, being back in my hometown, that it feels like I’ve been here forever. It feels like the start of something. I’m pumped.’

In an area dominated by Manchester’s Premier League giants City and United and a string of Super League’s biggest sides, Sale have a job on their hands fighting for a slice of the area’s sporting pie. 

But success sells and the Sharks have had a fine season with one huge game still to go.

Sanderson – who also played and coached at Saracens – revealed after the Leicester win that Sale’s owners Simon Orange and Ged Mason have written the Sharks into their wills to ensure the club’s survival into the future. Sanderson also insisted his team can beat Saracens.

He and his Sale players celebrated long into the night after beating Leicester before turning their attentions to the final. 

Oldham’s George Ford wants to inspire children with Sale’s run to their first final since 2006

Oldham-born fly-half George Ford, who won the Premiership with the Tigers last season, spoke passionately of his squad’s desire to represent their region.

‘One of the reasons why (we play) is making the people of the north proud,’ said Ford, who was at his controlling best against Leicester. ‘Rugby union up here has got its challenges, as we all know.

‘All we can do as a club is try to win games, try to entertain these people, and give them a winning team. We want to inspire the kids. Ultimately, that’s what it’s about. When we’ve finished and are long gone, they’re the people that will come in and take the game forward.

‘If we can inspire kids to come and play up here and have northern lads playing for Sale, that’s what we want. It’s obviously challenging with football and rugby league but we’re doing our utmost to have an effect on these young kids.’

Ford admitted he had never seen or heard the 12,000 capacity AJ Bell Stadium deliver an atmosphere or occasion like the Leicester semi-final.

The England fly-half ‘came home’ when joining Sale. Perhaps the club’s connection to the north is best summed up by their enigmatic young back three.

Arron Reed (L) and Tom Roebuck are among the young players at the heart of Sale’s system

Joe Carpenter (21), Tom Roebuck (22) and Arron Reed (23) have all come through the Sale system and look set to be at the heart of the Sharks for years to come.

Wings Roebuck and Reed both scored against Leicester while full-back Carpenter has had a brilliant season and could prove a bolter for England’s World Cup squad.

‘Saracens are an unbelievable team. We understand the challenge ahead but finals are funny things – it’s on the day, as you saw last year,’ Ford said.

‘I’ve experienced it before where you play really well in the semi-final and then you get to the final and you don’t fire a shot. We’ve got one to go. We’ll be making sure we use these next two weeks to get ourselves in the position to give it our best shot.’

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