Mark Cueto: Sale forwards could hold key to ending long Premiership title wait

By Sports Desk May 24, 2023

Mark Cueto believes that the Sale Sharks forwards hold a key to unlocking success in Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final against Saracens.

It is 17 years since Cueto and company stormed Twickenham, mauling Leicester Tigers 45-20 and being crowned champions for the first time.

Sale have not been part of English rugby’s showpiece domestic occasion since then, but Alex Sanderson’s class of 2023 have given themselves every chance to emulate household names in the club’s history like Cueto, Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal.

“I am really chuffed for everyone involved,” former England and British and Irish Lions wing Cueto, 43, told the PA news agency.

“It is so hard to win a trophy, and it is not until you have finished and you look back on your career that you realise how hard.

“We won the title in 2006, and we should have won it more than once. We were good enough to at least get to another final, but we fell short a couple of times, unfortunately.

“Rugby doesn’t change. You have got to keep on top of the opposition, and you have got to get on top up-front first.

“I think we are probably one of the only packs that can at least go head-to-head with the Saracens pack, if not get on top, and if we do that then we have got a really good chance.”

Rugby director Sanderson has proved a driving force behind Sale once again mixing it with the heavyweights of English rugby.

And Cueto added: “Alex and I were the same school year, and he was already a bit of a rock star when I pitched up at Sale.

“He had played for England at 22, then he carved out another career after playing and spent 10-plus years coaching at Saracens, the most successful club in Europe.

“Where better to earn your stripes, as it were, and it was a natural step for him to take a director of rugby job.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve, he is a grafter and he cares. He has got the skill, knowledge and attitude.

“When we lost Faf (de Klerk) and Lood (de Jager) at the end of last season, I was really apprehensive of how it was going to go this year, but how little do I know?”

Cueto and his family will be at Twickenham to witness Sale’s latest bid for silverware, and he admits that the heroics of 2006 are a vivid memory.

“I remember in 05, we had five or six Lions from Sale. It is big news when Saracens and Leicester have got five or six players in a Lions squad, and that was us 18 years ago,” he said.

“We just had such a good team – Charlie at 10, Jason Robinson, Mark Taylor in the centre, Chabal, Jason White, and we were just so confident.

“We had a simple game-plan – Robbo only scored one more try than he kicked drop-goals that season we won the league, and I was the club’s top try-scorer with six.

“It’s crazy to think that was the way we played, considering we were led by a maverick of a French winger in Philippe Saint-Andre. You would think we would be fast, open and loose, but the focus was the opposite.

“It was very structured, very efficient. If we got in the opposition third and three or four phases went by and we weren’t making decent ground, it was back in the pocket and take a drop-goal.

“It was rare that we left the opposition third without any points, and it was effective. Would I rather score 20 tries and come second, or six and win the league? You know the answer to that.

“It was the first time that a club had finished top of the domestic league and won the title through the play-offs.

“We had a forward pack that could beat anybody up, and sat behind that we had two of the best tactical kickers in the game in Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth. We scored 45 points in a final. It was mega.”

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