Lund of hope and glory offers England a glimpse of future
Sunday 28 May 2006
Magnus Lund might be the black sheep of the blond flankers' club for tucking his hair away under a nondescript scrum-cap but in every other way his talent is burning bright for all to see. England have picked the Sale open-side for the first time - they leave for the tour to Australia tomorrow - and if he continues to play like he did in this one-sided Premiership final, they will never let him go.
Lund's dad, Morten, is a Norwegian who played basketball. Magnus is a Mancunian by birth and there's no chance now of him emulating his brother, Erik, and turning out for Norway, at rugby or anything else. Lund has had a storming and indeed eclectic season, picking up a Commonwealth Games silver medal at sevens and now this ultimate domestic honour in XVs. There was a seminal moment 10 minutes into the second half when he bore down on Andy Goode behind a line-out, putting the Leicester fly-half in such a flap that the ball passed embarrassingly through his hands.
It was the kind of pressure Sale exerted throughout. It turned the Tigers into pussycats, and a long line of light-haired back-rowers - Back, Neary, Rives, Winterbottom, Waugh, Burger - would have been purring. Well, perhaps not Neil Back, who is a technical coach these days with Leicester.
Lund wears identical blue-and-black headgear to that of his team-mate Chris Jones, making immediate identification somewhat tricky. A bit more so given that Lund, not the second row Jones, was the safe recipient of three out of the first four Sale line-out throws - a valuable extra skill which Sale value highly and England may do too.
We thought the astonishing energy Leicester's Lewis Moody brings to the field was unrepeatable. But Lund was bouncing on his toes like a middleweight boxer to the final minute, putting Chris Mayor away for the fourth Sale try, with Moody chasing so gamely you wanted to cheer him for that alone. England's preferred combination of late has been Joe Worsley or Pat Sanderson at six, Moody at seven and another Tiger, Martin Corry, at eight.
Corry is taking a rest and not going Down Under, which opens a window of opportunity. Lund might have been selected for the A team to Canada for the Churchill Cup, in which case he would have been a Viking among the Saxons, and who knows what upset that might have caused. Instead, he will be among the big boys.
He has grown since joining Sale from Broughton Park in 2002; literally so in the past 12 months, with extra conditioning work planting upper-body muscle in his 16 and a half stone frame. If Back was the epitome of the diminutive down-and-dirty breakdown merchant, Lund is entirely from the other mould, 6ft 3in and quick with it.
Sale have great tacklers and ball-carriers in Jason White, Sébastien Chabal and Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe. A great openside needs to be a follower and forager. And no better example of the first of those qualities could have been found than in Lund's try after 16 minutes. From the fulcrum of Chabal's tap-down at a line-out, Lund had his eye on one thing - the ball.
Sale's scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth was waylaid in his chip-and-chase by Harry Ellis. Then Goode fumbled in the rain. Lund was there to shin it on and score one of those tries that look inevitable but are the result of clever anticipation and a burning desire to be where it counts.
Leicester packed down at the scrum with Shane Jennings and Moody left and right, whereas Lund stayed classically open throughout. Sale's well-balanced back row has served them well this championship-winning year. With England, if Moody or A N Other can be happy on the blindside, Lund can ride all the way to the World Cup. It is sad that injury has stalled the other wannabe back-rowers, Tom Rees and Ben Skirving. Their loss is Lund's gain. He will turn 23 just after he returns from Australia. The timing for this Anglo-Norwegian, with France 2007 in mind, looks Swiss-made.
So we reflect again on the four-team Premiership play-offs, an absolutely nonsensical way to conclude a 12-club, 22-match, nine-month competition. It is no justification for the system that, this time, the best team from first to last took the title.
Still, with a Magnus around, what Sale had started, they were determined to finish.
Quote unquote: 'My dream was to be top of the pile. Now we are'
CHARLIE HODGSON It's an amazing feeling. I can't describe how good it feels. If you sit at the top of the league and don't win you are going to be disappointed but we will enjoy this moment.
BRIAN KENNEDY It's not about money, it's about the team. Effort, tenacity, from the coach at the top to the players, to these fans. The league is fantastic but the play-offs are what it's all about.
HODGSON The way we defended today was absolutely key. The weather meant it was a case of getting the ball into the corners and then hoping to force mistakes.
PHILIPPE SAINT-ANDRE You know, in Manchester it rains a lot, so we are used to these conditions.
MARK CUETO [Of his try] I might try to blag it tonight and say I meant to do it.
KENNEDY I hope we sell 10,500 season tickets for next season, and maybe the year after that we'll build a bigger stadium.
CUETO We could have come away with nothing to show from a tremendous season. It's just a massive achievement for the club. We have been there or thereabouts for the last few years but never achieved anything, so to win is massive for the club and everyone involved. We have an unbelievable amount of depth in the squad, so hopefully it's the start of a good thing.
SAINT-ANDRE It will be a very long weekend, I can tell you. It's also special for me to win in Twickenham, you know, because I lost all the time here as a player.
JASON ROBINSON I came to Sale five and a half years ago and my dream was to be top of the pile. And now we are.
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