Alex Sanderson sought assurances over investment in mental health provisions before Sale move

Sanderson's reign got off to a winning start against Leicester Tigers - PA
Sanderson’s reign got off to a winning start against Leicester Tigers – PA

Alex Sanderson has invited a team of clinical psychologists into the Sale Sharks set-up this week to help players and coaches understand their work-life balance and offer additional support for any issues brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sanderson also revealed on Monday that investment in mental health had been a stipulation of his move from Saracens explicitly signed off by Sale owners Ged Mason and Jason Orange, as well as chief executive Sid Sutton.

Warrington-based company Changing Minds, who have worked with a number of sporting clients including Arsenal and the England and Wales Cricket Board, will meet with Sharks employees on Wednesday. Sanderson emphasised that coaches as well as players would be involved.

“I’m going to see them once a month, because who watches the watchers?” said the 41-year-old, whose tenure as director of rugby started with a 25-15 win over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road last Friday.

“That’s going to be an ongoing process to understand my life-work balance and my own wellbeing.

“That’s a buzzword at the minute, but this has to be an organisation where we get the best out of ourselves by being as happy as we can be in the environment.”

Sanderson, who has spent much of his first fortnight meeting players and establishing “commonality of thought” among his charges, suggested that Covid-19 will have aggravated any existing psychological problems.

“If you were a little bit stressed before, you are a little bit more [stressed] now,” he added. “If you had the onset of an illness before, you’ve probably got it now.

“There are fewer people to talk to, there is less support. There are restrictions and the economy, and sport, are more unstable so that emotional and financial security that people need is less certain. The more we can invest in psychological wellbeing, the better.

“Let’s make it clear: I do not have an open cheque book whatsoever. Every penny spent has to be justified, certainly. But it was one of the assurances given coming in, that we were going to invest in the infrastructure around the players.

“Now we have a good squad and a great training facility, but can we make the coaching team and the support that they have as good as everything else? Because that’s perhaps a place where Sale have under-invested in the past.

Bristol Bears, top of the league and coming off a 48-3 thrashing of Bath, are next up for Sale on Friday evening at Ashton Gate.

Feeling as though he is “spinning plates” as he adjusts to life as a Premiership honcho while navigating a play-off push, Sanderson intends to glean all the help available to him at this stage of his career.

“There are a lot of young directors of rugby in the game and it’s not an easy job,” he said. “I’m only two weeks in and it is going to get miles harder. There is no magic wand, no short-cutting this, so you have to surround yourself with support to improve and stay healthy.”

Meanwhile, beleaguered Bath have confirmed that two-cap England back-rower Zach Mercer will leave the club at the end of the 2020-21 season to join French side Montpellier. South African Jaco Coetzee will be arriving at The Rec from the Stormers for 2021-22.

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