After a 17-year association with Saracens, Saracens can today confirm Alex Sanderson will depart to take up the position as Sale Sharks Director of Rugby.
The 41-year-old joined Sarries from Sale as a player in 2004 and has made an instrumental impact since becoming part of the coaching team in the 2008/09 season.
Amongst many contributions on and off the training field, he has transformed the Men in Black’s defence into a formidable force and leaves behind the Wolfpack mentality which will forever be instilled at Saracens.
Sanderson heads back to the North West to take on the challenge of the first lead role of his coaching career, having played over 100 times for Sale between 1998 and 2004.
With the move, Sanderson becomes the latest of a long line of former Saracens coaches and players who have gone on to coach in lead jobs at top-flight clubs and at international level, something the club is extremely proud of given its huge emphasis on the strength and development of its coaching and support team.
“Alex has an enormous heart and huge character. He will always be a dear friend of the club,” said Saracens CEO Lucy Wray.
“I know this was a tough decision for Alex, but we completely understand his desire to take on a new challenge and take the next step in his coaching career. As we do with our players, we want to continue to nurture our coaches and promote from within. Thank you, Alex, for everything you have given to Saracens, both physically and emotionally. You and your family are always welcome back to StoneX Stadium.”
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall said: “Few people have been as central to the Saracens story as Alex. His drive, ambition and personality are woven into the very fabric of the club.
“He is one of the leading Coaches of his generation, blending comprehensive technical and tactical knowledge with an in depth understanding of the people in his care. His creativity, ability to articulate message and ferocious desire to improve players, sets the standard of what it is to be a modern day coach.
“Away from the field, Alex is loved by everyone at the club. Honest, kind-hearted and generous, he is considered by many a dear friend. He is also a dedicated family man and we wish him, Emma, and Ty every success in the future. Thank you, Alex, for all you have done for our club.” ‘
Talking on behalf of the current playing squad, Jamie George said: “It is nearly impossible to quantify the impact Al has had on every member of the playing squad at Saracens. He comes into work every day with a desire and passion to make the group the best they possibly can be.
“Where Al is different to others is the strong connection he has with the entire squad, he has taken a genuine interest in every player on and off the field and of course will be remembered for his weird and whacky ways of getting messages across to the group. On behalf of the playing squad, I would like to thank Al for showing us what it takes to be the best and wish him, Emma and Ty the very best in their move back to Manchester.”
Saracens owner Nigel Wray added: “All my family will miss you Alex, and indeed will miss all your family, Emma, Ty, your Mum and Dad… but we will always be friends. We will always be close friends. Thanks for those many years and the very best wishes for the future”.
A fantastic coach and, more importantly, a fantastic human, everyone at Saracens would like to thank Alex for everything he has done for the club over a prolonged period and wish him every bit of success in his new venture.
Sanderson penned the below letter to the Saracens family:
It’s with a heavy heart after a month of introspection and consideration I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you and farewell to my Saracens Family members.
To say ‘I love’ the organisation, the supporters, and my friends within it that make it so special would be an understatement. Saracens has been my life, and in many ways has shaped my life so indelibly that wherever I go from now on, a part of me will forever be a Saracen.
There are many accolades that we have achieved over the years, and belting nights out to boot, though ironically, it’s been on the occasions that we have had to steel ourselves, players and fans alike, and bond tighter together through all the hardships that I am most proud of.
To my peers…
First Brendan Venter then Mark McCall, have been mentors that have shown me the way, supported me, and given me the space to grow into the coach and person that my own father is proud of today. Most importantly they’ve been my friends and will forever remain so.
As for the rest of them, that being Shawsy, Peely, Kev, DV, Phil, Powelly, Jonesy and Slinger we have been lucky enough to have liked, known and worked together for a combined period of 125 years! A feat deserving a spot in the Guiness book of records – failing that, at the very least, a sure sign that it’s the strength of long-lasting relationships that truncate the core of all that is special about the club.
To such end, it would be remiss of me not to mention the massive contribution of the rest of the team behind the team, the S+C staff, Laura and her medical team, George, Warrick, Amelia and Nate. Thank you.
To the players…
Those legends who have moved on and those that remain, some of whom I’ve known since they were kids, seen them grow into impressive strong adults and on to become husbands and fathers – it’s difficult to express my appreciation for the trust, friendship and effort you have shown over the years.
Through our experiences together I am now rarely surprised, but always inspired on every occasion that you have been weighed and measured but never found wanting…
To Dominic Silvester…
A true-blue legend, a man of seemingly endless generosity, and another person who I consider a friend for life, thank you for your council and rock like support.
And finally, to the Wray family…
‘Thank you’ said in as many ways – as many times as I can muster doesn’t begin to cut it. I still have the letter that Nigel wrote to me welcoming me to the club 17 years ago.
It was Nigel who invested in me first as a player, then as a coach – Nigel who gave me the opportunity to make something out of myself and so it is with all sincerity when I say I will be forever grateful for all that you have done, and Lucy continues to do.
Long live the Wolfpack,
In other news, Saracens have announced their team to face Ealing Trailfinders
Saracens begin their Trailfinders Challenge Cup campaign on the road at Ealing Trailfinders with seven full internationals in the starting XV.
England Number 8 Billy Vunipola features in the back row alongside Namibian Janco Venter while Fiji’s Eroni Mawi and Springbok World Cup winner Vincent Koch start at loosehead and tighthead prop respectively.
After kicking seven from seven in his last outing, Will Hooley of USA partners Welshman Aled Davies at half-back while Scotland centre Duncan Taylor is in the midfield.
Hooker Tom Woolstencroft will captain the side and leads a pack which contains three Academy products in Jon Kpoku, Ollie Stonham and Andy Christie.
Academy graduates Rotimi Segun, Dom Morris and Elliott Obatoyinbo are selected alongside Sevens star Ben Harris who completes an exciting backline.
Former Ealing man Harry Sloan is among the replacements as is lock Llewelyn Jones who has joined Saracens on a two-week loan from Ampthill.
Saracens team to take on Ealing Trailfinders:
15 Elliott Obatoyinbo
14 Ben Harris
13 Dom Morris
12 Duncan Taylor
11 Rotimi Segun
10 Will Hooley
9 Aled Davies
1 Eroni Mawi
2 Tom Woolstencroft ©
3 Vincent Koch
4 Jon Kpoku
5 Ollie Stonham
6 Janco Venter
7 Andy Christie
8 Billy Vunipola
16 Kapeli Pifeleti
17 Sam Crean
18 Josh Ibuanokpe
19 Llewelyn Jones
20 Callum Hunter-Hill
21 Tom Whiteley
22 Harry Sloan
23 Charlie Watson
Sean O’Brien to retire from rugby
London Irish can confirm Seán O’Brien is set to retire from rugby at the end of the 2021/22 season.
The back-row forward will bring a storied 14-year career to a conclusion this summer after two-and-a-half years with the Exiles.
O’Brien spent eleven seasons with his home province of Leinster, winning four Pro12/ Pro14 league titles, four Heineken Cup/ Champions Cup honours and an Amlin Challenge Cup, whilst also earning the ERC European Player of the Year accolade in 2011.
He was capped 56 times for Ireland between 2009 and 2019 and represented the British and Irish Lions on two tours, firstly to Australia in 2013 and then to New Zealand in 2017.
O’Brien joined London Irish in December 2019 and has played a vital part across three successful seasons in west London, becoming a fan favourite amongst the Exile Nation.
On his decision to retire, O’Brien stated: “After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.
“I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British & Irish Lions.
“As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years.
“A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.
“I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.
“At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland.
“I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends, and family.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was 8 years old.
“They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport.
“They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career and I can’t thank them enough.
“I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them.
“I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.
“I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.
“Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career.
“Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.
“Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family.
“I can’t thank my Mum, Dad and brothers (Stephen and William) sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years.
“It has meant everything to me and to have 6 nephews watching means the world to me.
“There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then.
“I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.
“I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be.
“I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon.”
Club statement | Gloucester match cancelled
Warriors regret that tonight’s Gallagher Premiership match against Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm has been cancelled.
COVID-19 cases, illness and injuries mean that, despite every attempt to fulfil the fixture, we are unable to name a team with sufficient front row forwards to comply with the competition regulations.
We currently have 36 players unavailable due to injury, illness or COVID-19, leaving us with only 18 fully fit players, of whom just three are prop forwards.
When the side to face Gloucester was announced on Thursday we named the only four fit props in the club at that stage. The availability of Murray McCallum, who was named as replacement tighthead, was subject to him passing a fitness test on Friday morning. Unfortunately, Murray failed that fitness test.
Gloucester and Premiership Rugby have now been notified that we no longer have sufficient fit and available front row forwards to allow tonight’s match to proceed safely.
We apologise to Gloucester, supporters of both clubs and BT Sport for the inconvenience this will inevitably cause but exceptional circumstances have conspired against us.
An independent Panel will now be convened to decide the points allocation and that decision will be communicated in due course but Premiership Rugby can confirm the match will not be replayed.
• The playing regulations for Gallagher Premiership matches state that:
In the interests of safety each team playing in the Premiership must have at least six fit and able players in the squad who can play at hooker, tighthead prop and loosehead prop who are suitably trained and experienced to ensure that on the first occasion that a replacement in any front row position is required (whether due to injury or consequent to a player(s) being temporarily suspended or ordered off) the team can continue to play safely with contested scrums.
In the event that a club is unable to field those six players, the match shall be cancelled.
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Scotland international heading to Bristol
Bristol Bears have agreed terms to bring Scottish international Magnus Bradbury to Ashton Gate Stadium.
The 26-year-old back rower joins Ellis Genge and AJ MacGinty as the Bears’ third international signing ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.
With seventeen caps to his name, Bradbury has made over 100 appearances for Edinburgh Rugby since graduating through the club’s Academy.
“Magnus is a physical, athletic back rower with outstanding work rate and all the attributes to thrive in our system,” said Director of Rugby Pat Lam.
“To be a centurion at Edinburgh at such a young age shows his consistency and attitude and we’ve seen from his performances on the international stage that he can compete at the very highest level.
“Magnus brings further quality and physicality to our back row as we continue our recruitment for the 2022/23 campaign.”
Bradbury made his full Scotland debut in the 2016 November Test victory over Argentina at BT Murrayfield and has featured in all three of Scotland’s Six Nations fixtures in 2022.
He added: “It’s an exciting opportunity to come to Bristol and play in the Gallagher Premiership. This is a massive club with great ambitions and a world class coaching team – I’m looking forward to the challenge that awaits.
“I’d like to pay tribute to Edinburgh Rugby and my teammates, the fans and staff at the club. It’s been an incredible journey and I am grateful for the support I have received over many years.”