Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson says he is “super proud” that his Gallagher Premiership finalists are flying the flag for rugby union in the north of England.
And Sanderson believes a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium that provided an inspired soundtrack to Sale’s pulsating play-off victory over Leicester must be viewed as just the start of their journey.
Sale play within 23 miles of five Super League clubs – Salford, Leigh, St Helens, Warrington and Wigan – while Old Trafford is just four miles down the road and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium only a further five miles away.
It represents a congested sporting picture, but Sale have put themselves firmly on the map by reaching a first Premiership final for 17 years, with Saracens awaiting them at Twickenham on May 27.
“My job is to get them (players) to perform and play well at the weekend – that is my first priority – but there are many different hats to wear,” Sanderson said.
“And I am so proud of the fact that, potentially, our reach in the north is expanding.
“There are bigger crowds coming and the buzz is better. It’s busier, it’s a ‘Brucie bonus’. It is a humbling addition to the role in that you might be inspiring some kid to pick up a ball.
“I remember The North playing New Zealand when I was a kid. You know what I mean? Right now, we are flying the flag, and yes, I am super proud of that.
“I can’t talk too much about it because I start to cry and get too emotional.
“To come home, to this team – the team I played for and captained, that my brother played for, that my dad played against – it’s a bit of a dream.
“It feels like the start. I’m pumped, but I will think about the future in two weeks’ time. We have got a job to do before then.”
Sale fly-half George Ford, who played for Leicester when they defeated Saracens in the final a year ago, mirrors Sanderson’s view on building a northern stronghold.
Oldham-born Ford has won more than 80 England caps, playing on many of the sport’s biggest stages, and he is enthused by Sale’s future – on and off the pitch.
Ford said: “We speak about it all the time in that one of our reasons why is to make the people up here proud and interested in rugby union.
“To come out and support us, but more importantly for the kids to come out and pick up a rugby ball and start playing up here.
“It is obviously challenging with football and rugby league, but we are doing our utmost to have an effect on these young kids.
“Rugby union up here has got its challenges, as we all know. All we can do as a club is perform well, try to win games, fill the place out and try to entertain these people, give them a winning team that care and compete.
“We want to inspire the kids as well. The amount of kids you saw out there with smiles on their faces – ultimately, that’s what it is about.
“When we have finished and are long gone from the game, they are the people that will come in and take the game forward.
“If we can inspire kids to come and play up here – northern lads playing for Sale – that is what we want.”