Sale Sharks show “heart” in “hard fought” opening day victory


Alex Sanderson was proud of his side’s defensive set late on to hold out Northampton Saints but knows they have to be better in the weeks to come.

Sale Sharks got their Gallagher Premiership season off to winning ways with a 20-15 win over Northampton Saints at the AJ Bell Stadium.

The Saints, who haven’t won in Salford since 2017, pushed Sanderson’s side all the way and the Sharks Director of Rugby Sanderson admitted the result could have went either way.

“It was really hard fought win,” he said.

“It’s probably one of them that, on a different day, we will lose that game, so we have to look at the reasons that we let them in.

“Most of them were around set piece such as the scrum, but then they’ve(Northampton Saints) muscled up, haven’t they?

“The lads knuckled down and just showed why I love the group so much.

“They’re just got ocean depth reserves of heart and fight for each other.

“That’s when we looked my most energized in the 82nd minute, three metres from our line.”

Phil Dowson’s Saints side scored through James Ramm in the 68th minute to set up a nervy final ten minutes for the hosts, but despite the Saints banging on the door on multiple occasions and Sale having their captain Rob Du Preez sin binned, the hosts held out for victory, much to the delight of Sanderson and the coach revealed the team had been planning for this exact scenario during the week.

“We had a whole session around contingency on Friday just for these kind of black swan moments where the head remains calm, the communication has to be concise and above all else, you have to increase the amount of effort that you’re putting in, to account for the momentum that you need to gain back in the game,” he said.

“I think it probably paid off in terms of them being able to keep their heads in the last five minutes.”

Second row Ernst van Rhyn made his Premiership debut for the Sharks after his summer move from the Stormers, and Sanderson couldn’t help but see comparisons between the South African and one of Sale’s ex-stalwarts.

“What a player,” he said.

“You’ve see what we’ve seen in the last five weeks.

“He’s hard hitting and hardworking, isn’t he?

“As I said before, he’s like a younger, more smiley, Jono Ross, so we’re very lucky to have him.”

Back row forward Jean-Luc Du Preez hobbled off in the first-half of the round one fixture and Sanderson provided an update on his status.

He said: “It’s a hamstring, we don’t know how bad.

“He was on crutches but he’s limping around now, so that’s a good sign if he’s off crutches already.

“Hamstrings at the very least, like six to eight weeks aren’t they?”

Sale Sharks finished last season as runners-up after losing to Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership Final but Sanderson was keen to stress his side still have the hunger to go for the title once again this term.

He said: “That’s the aim(winning the title).

“I wouldn’t say on the back of that performance, no.

“It wasn’t a worry because I spoke to the boys, but initially it was like, do they still want it as much as they did last year?

“Does the pain of losing a final, influence the players, is there motivation to put it all out there again?

“Because it hurts that much.

“I spoke about this a few times and that’s been witnessed through other good sporting organisations, that common occurring effect, your body starts, your mind starts to protect your body because it’s so hard to get there and then fail.

“To bear witness to that, obviously they do, obviously it still matters a lot.

“It still means a lot to them and they want to go one step further.”

Sale’s match was played on the same day as England’s mammoth Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final tie with Fiji and Sanderson admits playing alongside the international tournament isn’t the best approach by the league.

He said: “It’s not ideal, is it?

“But if we’re going well, it might just get some leakage into the domestic game.

“I mean it happens every autumn, doesn’t it?

“And it has been happening every Six Nations.

“I think the restructuring of this season, where there’s no games during the Six Nations, allows most of your internationals to be back for more games, is an improvement.

“But it’s only not that ideal if you could have it an extra three weeks and play into July, is probably a better option.”

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