Sale out to ‘enjoy and embrace’ Premiership play-off challenge – Alex Sanderson

Sale out to ‘enjoy and embrace’ Premiership play-off challenge – Alex Sanderson

Alex Sanderson has described Sunday’s play-off clash against Leicester as “a game of grand magnitude” as Sale Sharks target a first Gallagher Premiership final appearance since 2006.

Sale beat Leicester 45-20 at Twickenham 17 years ago, helped on their way by 23 points from fly-half Charlie Hodgson, while captain Jason Robinson became the first player to win Grand Finals in both rugby codes.

The Sharks have featured in just one play-off occasion since that season, though, shipping 40 points against Exeter in 2021.

Standing in Sale’s way at a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium this weekend and a return to English rugby headquarters are the reigning Premiership champions.

When the clubs last met in Greater Manchester Sale ran out 40-5 winners, while Sharks finished second behind Saracens across the regular domestic season.

“Thankfully, this isn’t our first rodeo of recent times with this group,” Sale rugby director Sanderson said.

“We have learnt from two years ago how to manage these kind of moments better.

“It is a game of grand magnitude which we are looking to enjoy and embrace, not to be overwhelmed by. That is the challenge.

“Our excitement exists within this bubble. You don’t want to talk about the further reach because it can become overwhelming, as it did two years ago.

“You have to stick to process while being aware of the buzz around. It has been really, really busy around the ground and there is lots going on this weekend.

“We feel the support more than we ever have done. We have just got to come back to what has been working well for us, which is communicating well and training hard.”

It is difficult to under-estimate the drive that Sale have taken from their play-off loss against Exeter two years ago.

Had they beaten the Chiefs – also in Devon – during the final round of regular-season action a week earlier, then it could have secured a home semi-final.

Sanderson added: “We have been working towards it and building for this for two years, certainly since a year last Christmas when we realised we had a lot of work to do as an organisation.

“Since then, we have looked at how we can give ourselves these kind of opportunities.

Sale Sharks
Sale Sharks suffered play-off heartache against Exeter in 2021 (Ashley Western/PA)

“Now we are here, it feels like we have earned it. It’s less of a fairy-tale and there is less emotion around this occurrence than there was two years ago.

“We have referred back to the players, in particular seven or eight of them who have won the big trophies in the past, and how they have managed these weeks, how we can manage these moments better.

“It is a general understanding of how we deal with it, make sure it doesn’t change us, but be aware that it is there.”