A Word From The Axe – Newcastle Falcons

A huge welcome back from me for our first home game in just over a month. It’s good to be back on home soil as we enter a historic end to the season.

And we’re rounding off with the battle of the North for our final regular season home game, as we welcome Newcastle Falcons to the AJ Bell.

Let me start by welcoming Mark Laycock and the Falcons staff and players to Manchester. We have a history of hard-fought fixtures against Newcastle, and I have no doubt we’re in for another display of Northern grit for the Gallagher Premiership rugby season finale today.

You can look at today’s fixture in a couple of ways as a player. Either as a game with not much riding on it, making sure to preserve and protect yourself ahead of the semi-final, or as an opportunity to improve and build momentum for the biggest game this club has seen in over fifteen years. And after speaking with Jono Ross and the team, it is clear that we all believe in the latter. We want to push on today, not pull back.

Jono was adamant that it’s not even a choice for the lads, they will go out there and give their all no matter what the fixture. Of course we, the coaches, have to think about game management and making sure our players are fit and firing when we need them to be, but that’s the best selection problem to have.

On selection, Dan du Preez is available again after his injury which is a huge boost for the team. It speaks volumes of him as an athlete and a man to be back in contention this season. If he wasn’t showing signs of returning for this fixture it would have been really hard to pick him in the semi-final, for his own wellbeing more than anything, but he’s worked really hard to get to this point and it’s massive for us to have him back.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the three huge characters hanging up their boots at the end of this season; Will Cliff, Byron McGuigan and Jono Ross. Many players have come through the doors at Carrington and left their mark on the club, but none more so than Jono Ross, who has been pivotal in this club’s development. Jono has carried the torch for the players as their leader, and his legacy will live on here forever. Byron is hanging up his playing boots but putting on his coaching hat and joining the backroom staff which we are really pleased about. He’s another strong voice in the team and he’ll continue to drive the lads forward in his new role. And Cliffy is such a part of the furniture here we’ll never really say goodbye to him properly, although he won’t be pulling the shirt on as such, he’ll still have his part to play around Carrington. I’m sure you’ll join me in giving them all a royal send off this coronation weekend.

But, players leaving always opens a door for others to come in, and we’ve had a few big characters commit their future to Sale in the past month. I joked in the press conference this week that we won’t have anything to talk about now that the Manu renewal is done and dusted, but just to reiterate what I’ve said before, we are over the moon to have him staying with us. For his power on the pitch and influence off it, he is the type of character you want in your team as a coach and a player. We’ve also welcomed a couple of new Sharks to the team in Tom Ellis and Ernst van Rhyn. Tom is going well in training and we’re hoping to see some of him before the season is done, and Ernst will give us a bit more South African steel in the pack. We’re excited to see them develop with the squad.

It’s a big month for us all and

we’re determined to be playing two more games after this one. The semi-final starts here this afternoon against Newcastle, and I know you’ll be there in full voice pushing the lads on as you always do.

Enjoy the game,

Al

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