Sanderson to leave Sale

By David Llewellyn
Thursday 26 February 2004 01:00

Alex Sanderson, the England and Sale back-row forward, is to quit Heywood Road at the end of the season. According to unconfirmed reports, Sanderson has agreed to join Saracens, on what is understood to be a four-year contract, at the start of next season.

Sanderson, 24, who won the last of his five England caps against France in Marseilles last August, could well be handed the Saracens captaincy.

But the news that their captain is poised to jump ship could prompt other players to leave Sale. It is believed that two-thirds of the squad will be out of contract at the end of the season, although England's Jason Robinson and Chris Jones still have a couple of years remaining on their deals.

Sale's players are unhappy at the treatment of the head coach, Jim Mallinder, and demanded a meeting with the management in order to voice their misgivings. They are also said to be dissatisfied with training facilities and the medical back-up.

The Sale manager, Steve Diamond, left a few weeks ago to join Saracens' coaching staff and Mallinder's position is still in doubt. He has been offered a new contract, but the club have said that a new director of rugby will be appointed in the next seven to 10 days. Since Mallinder has approached Leicester for the vacancy there, it looks unlikely that he will stay with Sale.

But Mallinder is one of a number of candidates being looked at by the Tigers. There has been speculation that Declan Kidney, the assistant Ireland coach, who has rejected a new contract with the national team, is another possibility.

However, it emerged yesterday that the Tigers are on the lookout in the southern hemisphere as well. Earlier this week, the chief executive, Peter Wheeler, stopped off in South Africa to sound out the former Springboks and Tigers fly-half Joel Stransky, before flying on to Australia. There, Wheeler may try to contact John Mitchell, the former All Blacks coach and the favourite to head up the Tigers' coaching team.

Wheeler has also spoken to another former Tiger, Pat Howard, the one-time Wallaby centre. He is player-coach with Montferrand in France and has declared his interest but it remains unclear as to what role he would fulfil - head coach or simply backs' coach.

England were given some good news when Bath confirmed that the centre Mike Tindall will start the Powergen Cup quarter-final tie at Leeds on Saturday.

Tindall has been recovering from an ankle injury but yesterday the Bath head coach, John Connolly, said: "He's not quite 100 per cent, but he is raring to go.'' If his right ankle stands up to a competitive match then it could see Tindall being considered for England's match against Wales at Twickenham on 20 March.

The Australian Rugby Union yesterday confirmed that England would meet the Wallabies in Brisbane on 26 June - after the Aussies have played two Tests against Scotland in Melbourne and Sydney.

The Ireland lock Donnacha O'Callaghan is out of the match against England after straining medial ligaments in his right knee against Wales. He will be replaced by Malcolm O'Kelly but is expected to recover in time to face Italy on 20 March.

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