Daily Express

Sale carry union’s northern soul in their bid for glory

- By Alex Spink

WHEN George Ford kicked the penalty that sent Sale to their first Premiershi­p final since 2006, his first thought was not for himself.

Nor even his team-mates. He was thinking bigger.

He looked at the full stands in a stadium not used to such a sight, to kids in Sale shirts rather than the colours of Manchester United or City.And he felt a sense of pride.

The England fly-half said: “I’ve never heard it or seen it like that.

“We speak about it all the time, one of our reasons why is to make the people up here proud and interested in rugby union.

“It’s obviously challengin­g with football and rugby league, but we’re doing our utmost to have an effect on these young kids.” Oldham-born Ford left champions Leicester for a club without a major trophy in 17 years in part because he wanted to revive rugby in the region he calls home.

Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson, born an hour down the road, did the same when heading back from Saracens.

“I feel super proud that we’re flying the flag,” said Sanderson. “I can’t talk too much about it because I start to cry.”

The year Sanderson was born the North of England handed the All Blacks the only defeat of their 1979 tour, at Otley.

Club success for a region saturated by football and rugby’s other code, has remained elusive, bar Newcastle lifting the Premiershi­p in 1998 and Jason Robinson leading Sale to glory eight years later.

As recently as September Sharks co-owner Simon Orange warned they needed more fans “if rugby is going to grow – and rugby needs to grow to avoid clubs getting in trouble”.

Wasps and Worcester promptly went bust and London Irish are in peril. But there is hope at Sale at a time when England are coached by Cumbrian Steve Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield from Oldham and led by Wigan’s Owen Farrell.

Sanderson said: “It’s a start.That’s how we have to view it.” ❑LONDON Irish have been given a fortnight to convince the RFU the club can be funded next season or they will be kicked out of league rugby.

Irish are in the midst of a protracted takeover bid.

The RFU have demanded that either the takeover is completed or Irish provide proof they can continue to meet their financial obligation­s by May 30 or they will be suspended next term.

 ?? ?? HOME WIN: Sanderson is driven to help revive union in the north
HOME WIN: Sanderson is driven to help revive union in the north
 ?? ?? GENERATION GAME: Ford with fans
GENERATION GAME: Ford with fans

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