Alex Sanderson: Sale’s character can counteract ‘lightning bolts’ from Racing 92

Sale edged out Gallagher Premiership rivals Bristol over two nip-and-tuck legs to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.

By Press Association Published: 3 May 2022 - 5.36pm

Alex Sanderson recognises Sale will be underdogs against Racing 92 but hopes the Sharks’ character can counteract the “lightning bolts” that could be thrown at them this weekend.

Sale edged out Gallagher Premiership rivals Bristol over two nip-and-tuck legs to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, where a trip to highly-fancied Racing on Sunday afternoon awaits.

Racing have reached the final of Europe’s elite club competition in three of the last six seasons and boast a star-studded line-up with several France internationals and Scotland fly-half Finn Russell.

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is part of a formidable Racing 92 line-up (Mike Egerton/PA)
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell is part of a formidable Racing 92 line-up (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Top 14 club have stuttered in the knockout rounds in the past but – while Sanderson is braced for their might – he insisted Sale thrive under pressure and has tipped them do so again in Paris.

“Character, fortunately for me, this team have in abundance,” Sale’s director of rugby said. “Our chance to be able to show who we are in terms of our character is something that’s highly motivating.

“They’ve shown their best qualities and played some of their best rugby when they’ve had their backs against the wall and gone into a hostile environment where we’re the underdogs. It’s the same again.

“Our ability to stay in the fight, despite what they throw at us, is going to be key and not the other way around”
- Alex Sanderson

“I don’t think Racing are the type of team that crumble – you don’t get them at this stage of the competition. You’ll get out of them in the 80th minute what you get out of them in the first.

“It’s down to your own resilience and resolve. Are you able to handle one of those lightning bolts they’re able to chuck, this team, when it could be against the run of play or totally out of the blue?

“How are you going to react to that? That’s the challenge for us and our ability to stay in the fight, despite what they throw at us, is going to be key and not the other way around.”

Faf de Klerk is set to leave Sale Sharks at the end of the season (Martin Rickett/PA)
Faf De Klerk is set to leave Sale at the end of the season (Martin Rickett/PA)

Sanderson admitted tactical adjustments and the odd curve ball are necessary at this stage of the competition in a bid to throw off their opponents.

“There’s going to be elements of our game where you have to roll the dice a little bit and take those calculated risks at this level, otherwise you become too predictable,” Sanderson said.

Sale have their own star attractions including South Africa’s 2019 World Cup-winning scrum-half Faf De Klerk – who is set to leave the club at the end of the season – and England’s Manu Tuilagi.

The bulldozing centre was conspicuous by his absence in Sale’s win over Newcastle last Friday but Sanderson revealed the World Cup finalist was safeguarded for the upcoming fixture.

Manu Tuilagi is available for the Sharks on Sunday (Mike Egerton/PA)
Manu Tuilagi is available for the Sharks on Sunday (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He’s well primed,” he added. “Manu’s an English-Samoan thoroughbred. It was purely conservational on Manu’s part last week, just to keep him fresh and not risk injury and make sure his loading’s up there.

“He’s better than he would have been if he’d have played last week.”

Sanderson, who says he is in an “enviable position” in terms of team selection, is adamant his side will be undeterred by the distinctive environment that they will face at the U Arena.

An indoor stadium with a 4G pitch, the venue also stages concerts, while on game day there are frequently firework displays and laser shows.

“There’s a necessity for them not to be distracted by that,” Sanderson added. “We’ve already mentioned and created an awareness around it. We’re going there the day before to have a look at it.

“We do already have some processes in place which will hopefully be able to centre us back to what we need to do and not get too caught up in the whole occasion.”

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