Sale Sharks have ‘one of the only packs’ that can front up to Saracens

Jared Wright
Mark Cueto believes that Sale Sharks have the pack to match Saracens in Saturday’s Premiership final and has hailed the work of Alex Sanderson this season.

Former England winger Mark Cueto believes that Sale Sharks have the pack to match Saracens in Saturday’s Premiership final.

Cueto was part of the 2006 Premiership-winning Sale Sharks side that mauled Leicester Tigers 45-20 to be crowned champions for the first time in the league.

Sale Sharks have the pack

“I am really chuffed for everyone involved,” Cueto said of Alex Sanderson’s side, which has reached the final for the first time in 17 years.

“It is so hard to win a trophy, and it is not until you have finished and you look back on your career that you realise how hard.

“We won the title in 2006, and we should have won it more than once. We were good enough to at least get to another final, but we fell short a couple of times, unfortunately.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s match, Cueto believes that Sale have a pack strong enough to front up to Saracens.

“Rugby doesn’t change. You have got to keep on top of the opposition, and you have got to get on top up-front first,” he explained.

“I think we are probably one of the only packs that can at least go head-to-head with the Saracens pack, if not get on top, and if we do that, then we have got a really good chance.”

Alex Sanderson

Sanderson has been a driving force in steering Sale into the final, and Cueto spoke highly of his former clubmate.

“Alex and I were the same school year, and he was already a bit of a rock star when I pitched up at Sale,” he said.

“He had played for England at 22; then he carved out another career after playing and spent 10-plus years coaching at Saracens, the most successful club in Europe.

“Where better to earn your stripes, as it were, and it was a natural step for him to take a director of rugby job.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve, he is a grafter, and he cares. He has got the skill, knowledge and attitude.

“When we lost Faf (de Klerk) and Lood (de Jager) at the end of last season, I was really apprehensive of how it was going to go this year, but how little do I know?”

2006 success

Reflecting on his success in the Premiership with Sale, Cueto vividly remembers the 2006 final with the stacked team coached by Philippe Saint-Andre.

“I remember in ’05; we had five or six Lions from Sale. It is big news when Saracens and Leicester have got five or six players in a Lions squad, and that was us 18 years ago,” he said.

“We just had such a good team – Charlie [Hodgson] at 10, Jason Robinson, Mark Taylor in the centre, [Sebastien] Chabal, Jason White, and we were just so confident.

“We had a simple game plan – Robbo only scored one more try than he kicked drop-goals that season. We won the league, and I was the club’s top try-scorer with six.

“It’s crazy to think that was the way we played, considering we were led by a maverick of a French winger in Philippe Saint-Andre. You would think we would be fast, open and loose, but the focus was the opposite.

“It was very structured, very efficient. If we got in the opposition’s third and three or four phases went by, and we weren’t making decent ground, it was back in the pocket and take a drop-goal.

“It was rare that we left the opposition third without any points, and it was effective. Would I rather score 20 tries and come second, or six and win the league? You know the answer to that.

“It was the first time that a club had finished top of the domestic league and won the title through the play-offs.

“We had a forward pack that could beat anybody up and sat behind that; we had two of the best tactical kickers in the game in Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth. We scored 45 points in a final. It was mega.”

READ MORE: Legendary trio to be inducted into the Premiership Rugby Hall of Fame