Just Stop Oil protesters forced a stoppage in play during Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham.

Two men invaded the pitch midway through the first half of the match between Saracens and Sale, throwing orange paint powder on to the field.

Fans jeered the duo before cheering as stewards escorted them from the stadium.

Orange powder remained on the field as the match resumed.

The protest followed a similar one at the World Snooker Championship in April.

On that occasion, a man tipped orange paint on the table during the match between Robert Milkins and Joe Perry at the Crucible in Sheffield.

A woman was prevented from executing a similar stunt on the other table after being tackled by quick-thinking referee Olivier Marteel.

Owen Farrell insists Saracens return to the Gallagher Premiership final with more strings to their bow as a result of last year’s Twickenham heartache.

Leicester were crowned champions at Saracens’ expense and although it was a narrow 15-12 defeat, a disappointing performance prompted a tactical rethink that has produced greater emphasis on attack.

Now they face the ultimate test of their progress in the winner-takes-all clash with Sale on Saturday.

“It took us a while to figure out how to get the best out of ourselves after last year’s final because we didn’t do that in that game,” Farrell said.

“What happened probably allowed us to change a bit more than we usually would after a final. It got us looking at ourselves a bit more than usual.

“Just simply because we were nowhere near our best and we didn’t give the best version of ourselves.

“Obviously Leicester played a massive part in that, but we don’t want to come off the field feeling like that again. That 80 minutes made us look at everything and look at how we can be better.

“Everyone talks about us now like we have turned into a team that plays attacking rugby this year alone. We’ve won stuff before playing good rugby.

“We have always had a solid basis behind us and we still have but there were times during the year and sometimes in big pressure games that we were trying to stay in the fight whereas now we want to take opportunities and make good decisions.

“Part of that could be staying in the fight – we want to be good at that – and part of that could be moving the ball. It could be anything – kick pass, run.

“We want to be good enough to play any way the game demands of us and we feel like we have taken a step forward with that this year. Hopefully that plays a big part in what we have do on Saturday.”

A key battle that will shape the contest is Farrell’s fly-half duel with George Ford, his long-term friend and former England team-mate who has been hugely influential for Sale since returning from an Achilles injury.

“I have known George since I was a kid. When you come up against him, first and foremost you know you are playing against a quality player,” Farrell said.

“You know you are playing against someone who knows what they are doing and as he has shown since coming back into the Sale team, he has been outstanding.

“He’s in a good place, he looks calm, he looks in control and I am sure he is a big driver behind this Sale team so I am looking forward to it.”

George Ford says it is not about individual match-ups ahead of an intriguing Twickenham battle with friend and England colleague Owen Farrell.

Ford will pull the tactical strings for Sale on their first appearance in a Gallagher Premiership final since 2006.

His rival fly-half Farrell, meanwhile, is key to Saracens’ hopes of securing a sixth Premiership title on Saturday following the crushing disappointment that accompanied their defeat against Leicester at Twickenham last season.

“We understand Owen has an unbelievable influence on the Saracens team, but he is one of only 15 men on the field at that particular time,” Sale playmaker Ford said.

“There are threats everywhere, and we are like that ourselves. I am one of only 15 at a time for Sale.

“I never see it as just a match-up between me and him. There is so much more that goes into a game of rugby.

“Obviously, both of us will want to do our job as well as we can, of course we do, for our team, and that is making as many good decisions and executing as well as we can.

“He is a great friend, and we understand we are just a cog in a machine of two teams, I suppose, that hopefully have an influence on the game one way or another.

“That consistency that he (Farrell) plays at very rarely dips. You see the influence he has on the teams he plays in and the way he drives it.

“He is obviously driving their variety in terms of the way they attack when they have the ball, and he is probably as ferocious as ever in defence.

“A lot of the stuff in rugby comes down to not just one player against another, it comes down to many things.

“Who has got momentum, who’s got speed of ball, who has got field position, who’s building pressure the most? And then it is about who executes better in those moments.

“Saracens have added variety to their game, everybody knows about that, in terms of the last 12 months, the way they play with the ball.

“But it comes down to who executes the best under pressure, because both teams are going to try to put each other under pressure. Who can handle that?”

Ford started for Leicester in last season’s final but a serious Achilles injury suffered during the first half of that game meant a lengthy rehabilitation programme and his Sale debut being delayed until earlier this year.

He now has a chance to win silverware in his first campaign with the Sharks, backing Ford’s long-held view that Sale can be challenging for trophies.

Reflecting on the move north, he added: “It was the reasons of coming up to where I grew up, coming up to be close to my family, coming to a team I knew had unbelievable potential to start competing and hopefully start challenging for titles in the Premiership.

“Also, to have a new challenge. Sometimes, the easier decision as a player is to be more comfortable, stick with what you know, understand where you are within that team.

“But also you’ve a decision where you can maybe come out of your comfort zone, come to a new team and you are at a stage where you have to start influencing, you’ve got to start proving yourself again to a whole new group of people and see what you can do with that team.

“I think that brings the best out of you sometimes. I certainly felt that coming back from injury. I have loved it.”

Stormers head coach John Dobson has hailed Munster’s “phenomenal” run to the United Rugby Championship final ahead of Saturday’s clash in Cape Town.

While the Stormers are chasing back-to-back URC titles, Munster have not won a major trophy for 12 years.

But Graham Rowntree’s team – beaten finalists in 2015, 2017 and 2021 – have shown their quality through some outstanding late-season form.

And their sequence of impressive results includes a 26-24 away victory over the Stormers last month.

“They came here and ended our unbeaten record, then they go to the Sharks (in Durban) – a fully-loaded Sharks – and draw.

“They go to Scotstoun in Glasgow, who haven’t lost there in the whole season, they win in Glasgow and they then go and win in Leinster. That is phenomenal.

“Graham Rowntree is obviously a very bright coach. He has done an exceptional job with Munster. He is a really nice guy, a true rugby guy, and what they have done lately is remarkable.”

Rowntree has made three changes from the side that defeated semi-final opponents Leinster, with centre Malakai Fekitoa, scrum-half Conor Murray and wing Calvin Nash all returning after completing return-to-play protocols following the quarter-finals.

Assessing the challenge, Rowntree said: “Looking at how we broke them down (in April) and dealt with their power game will help, but they will be better than that night.

“They will be battle-hardened themselves, so it will be a real challenge for us.

“But we are in a final, we back the work we’ve done, we back our fitness. There is loads to improve on in our game.”

South Africa internationals Deon Fourie and Marvin Orie return to the Stormers line-up after recovering from injury for what will be a sold-out encounter at DHL Stadium.

Dobson added: “It is an incredible feeling for us to make the Grand Final again – it is quite emotional.

“We have a lot of respect for Munster – the truth is that we have never beaten them – so while we are thrilled to be playing at home, we know it will be a big challenge against a good team.

“It should be an amazing occasion for the team, our passionate supporters and the city of Cape Town.”

England forward Jonny Hill has urged Sale Sharks to seize the moment when they contest their first Gallagher Premiership final for 17 years on Saturday.

Five-time champions Saracens stand between Sale and silverware at Twickenham in a heavyweight battle of two clubs fresh from dominating the 20-game regular league season.

While Saracens have reached eight Premiership finals, Sale’s solitary appearance came in 2006 when players like Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal starred in a 45-20 mauling of Leicester.

And having booked a belated return trip to English rugby’s showpiece domestic occasion, Sale lock Hill – a veteran of four Premiership finals with his previous club Exeter – knows the opportunity must not be allowed to pass them by.

“I brought it up in a meeting this week that we don’t want to go there, enjoy the day and occasion, think we’ve had a really good season, let’s go and win it next year,” Hill told the PA news agency.

“You never know, we might not get there for another 17 years, so let’s make the most of this weekend. How we do that, there are ways and techniques.

“A lot of these boys have never been to Twickenham, not even as a fan, so it was important to have a look at it all on Friday so that once we rock up on Saturday we will just be focused on the rugby and putting our best forward.

“We are in uncharted territory, really. There are quite a lot of players who haven’t experienced that big game in a big arena.

“It will be very close to a Test match, if not right there. Our preparation this week has been geared towards the hardest game we will have to play.

“Sale have got a golden crop of young lads coming through, which Exeter had. I see a lot of comparisons, although this time around I am one of the older ones!”

Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson has made one enforced change from the side that beat semi-final opponents Leicester, with flanker Sam Dugdale replacing an injured Ben Curry, while number eight Jono Ross skippers the Sharks on his final appearance before retirement.

It means a Twickenham chance for home-grown northern talent like full-back Joe Carpenter, wing Arron Reed and scrum-half Gus Warr, and Hill is enthused by what the young brigade have brought this term.

“Their biggest strength is that they are really relaxed – I don’t think they know what they are doing at the minute!” Hill added.

“They will look back at some point and realise how massive it was, but they are just rolling with the punches and going week to week. They don’t get ahead of themselves.

“These are the best days you are going to have at club level. When you reach a Premiership final, the environment is of course very good.

“What Al (Sanderson) has created, what the squad has created for that to come to fruition is very, very impressive.”

Saracens boss Mark McCall also makes one switch after the play-offs, with loosehead prop Eroni Mawi preferred to England international Maku Vunipola, who is among the replacements.

McCall’s men were edged out by Leicester in a gripping final 12 months ago, and it is four years since they last lifted the title.

Saracens and England lock Maro Itoje said: “We’ve had a lot of experience in these big games and these scenarios, but it is about who puts themselves on the front foot.

“It’s about who stands up and is counted on the day. We do have experience, but the challenge is to make that experience count.

“I think it is fair that number one plays number two in the league. I think the play-off system keeps the games and the league interesting and exciting.

“I’ve been a part of teams that have finished fourth and gone on to win it, so I do think the play-off system adds an extra element of buzz and excitement.”

Ben Earl is looking to help Saracens regain the Gallagher Premiership title and put down an early World Cup selection marker at Twickenham on Saturday.

Saracens flanker Earl has been among the league’s most consistent performers, highlighted by him winning Premiership player of the season last year.

But while his England career is into double figures in terms of caps, he has made just two Test appearances since March 2021.

Earl’s experience of the Guinness Six Nations this term was restricted to a combined 52 minutes off the bench against Scotland and Italy, with back-row starting berths in Steve Borthwick’s team being fought out by the likes of Ben Curry, Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam.

A Premiership final puts himself firmly in the spotlight, though, ahead of England’s World Cup countdown towards France later this year gathering pace.

“The moment you start looking for excuses, the moment you start thinking I am just unlucky, my face doesn’t fit, is probably the moment you give somebody the reason to drop you,” Earl said.

“I’ve kind of got to stay with it. Steve was unbelievably positive about my work in the Six Nations.

“Unfortunately, selection didn’t always go my way, but I am trying to stay positive and put my best foot forward in these big games, which are probably the games he is looking at the most.

“I think I have played as consistently as I did last year, which was a big challenge of mine.

“There is no point winning some of the accolades I did last year and not backing it up. Selfishly, the elephant in the room is that I wish I could have played a bit more for England in that Six Nations campaign.

“For whatever reason, I didn’t, and I have learnt a lot from that. I am looking forward to going again, putting my best foot forward in these big games, which has been a big focus of mine.

“The moment that you stop performing, you give someone an easy reason not to pick you. That is a big thing.

“On the flip-side, if I get a chance to play a Test match this summer, it’s got to be good.

“You look at how competitive my position is, it always feels that the person who slips up first is going to be the one that misses out.”

Saracens are back at English rugby headquarters a year after Freddie Burns’ late drop-goal saw Leicester crowned champions, leaving Earl and his team-mates deflated.

But victory over Sale, who have reached a first Premiership final since 2006, would give Saracens a sixth league crown in the past 13 seasons.

“It would mean everything to me,” Earl added. “The amount of times I have carried bags for games like these when I was a bit younger, I have always wanted to celebrate a win.

“Coming a little bit short last year has only made this group hungrier and me hungrier. To win the league after such a long slog with your boyhood club would be everything, really.

“In the 12 months I’ve learnt a huge amount in terms of getting myself right mentally, and what I can give the team if I am right. Hopefully, I can show that on Saturday.”

Sale Sharks skipper Jono Ross feels “the time is right” for retirement – but not before one last challenge that could deliver a dream career finale.

The South African number eight will lead Sale into their biggest game for 17 years on Saturday, with Saracens standing between them and the Gallagher Premiership title.

The 32-year-old has made more than 150 Sale appearances, including topping the Premiership tackle-count for three successive seasons, and proved a driving force behind their resurgence led by rugby director Alex Sanderson.

And taking silverware back to the north-west of England would mean mission accomplished as he hangs up his boots.

“I am massively proud of where the club has come from over the last six or seven years,” Ross said.

“When I arrived, we finished eighth or ninth and the goal was to make the play-offs, which we did.

“Now to be in the final is massively special and rewarding for all the work that has gone in, but the job is not done and we have another big hurdle this weekend.

“I think you have got to learn from games like the defeat to Exeter in the semi-finals a couple of years ago, and the mistakes we made.

“Maybe we expended too much energy during the week, but the way we have wanted to play this year we have really found our identity.

“We have another game against the best team in the league, we are going in as underdogs and we have to go out there and make sure it is a special day.”

Tributes flowed from inside and outside the club when Ross announced his retirement a month ago, with Sanderson describing him as a player who “epitomised everything Sale Sharks stand for both on and off the pitch,” in addition to highlighting his tactical knowledge, emotional intelligence and communication skills.

And while the Johannesburg-born forward now prepares to step away, he will do it content in the knowledge that everything has aligned.

“I must say that I feel as ready as I ever have to finish. I think the time is right for me,” he added.

“It is a privilege to be able to finish on my terms – that’s a huge thing for me.

“I said to myself when I start finding it a little unenjoyable going out to play when it’s cold and wet in December-January, maybe I know the time is right, and I would say that in December and January I definitely knew the time was right.”

Ross, meanwhile, is in no doubt about the size of Sanderson’s role in making Sale title contenders.

“When Alex came in, he saw a lot of potential in the group and guys have been given a chance,” Ross said.

“If you look at the likes of Joe Carpenter, Tom Roebuck, Bevan Rodd and Gus Warr, they have taken their chance and excelled under Alex Sanderson. That is a testament to them and him.

“It has been fantastic for the group. The young guys bring so much energy, hunger and drive.

“Over the last 18 months-two years that Alex has been here I think we have created a great synergy where we are able to say what we feel as a senior group and the coaches respond to that.

“When Alex first arrived I said ‘I will challenge you’ and he said he would challenge me, but it would never be in front of the squad because that is not respectful.

“Hopefully, off the back of that, he improved as a coach and I definitely improved as a person and a player because of our relationship.”

England hooker Dylan Hartley lost his place on the British and Irish Lions tour when he was sent off in the Premiership final on this day 10 years ago.

The Northampton captain was shown a red card for dissent shortly before half-time in his side’s 37-17 defeat to Leicester in the climax to the domestic season at Twickenham.

Hartley was alleged to have called referee Wayne Barnes a “f****** cheat” and was subsequently hit with an 11-week ban.

Hartley insisted his volley of abuse had not been aimed at the official but at Leicester hooker Tom Youngs. However, he had been warned about his language by Barnes just two minutes earlier.

He did not contest his punishment and sat out the Lions’ 10-game tour of Hong Kong and Australia, for which the squad flew out just two days later.

Rory Best was called up as Hartley’s replacement by coach Warren Gatland.

Speaking about the incident years later, Hartley admitted he felt he had let his colleagues and himself down.

“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “It was Northampton’s first ever final in the Premiership. I let down not only the team but the town, and then personally I’d been to the Lions camp the week before and had all that kit.”

Hartley did earn another chance at the Premiership final the following year and was on the winning side as Saints beat Saracens in extra time.

He did captain England to Six Nations glory twice, but there were no more Lions opportunities as he was overlooked for the 2017 New Zealand tour. He retired in 2019.

Eddie Jones has “no emotional attachment” to England as he prepares for his first appearance at Twickenham since being sacked by the Rugby Football Union.

Jones takes charge of the Barbarians against the World XV in a star-studded fixture on Sunday that is a brief interruption to his duties as Australia head coach.

England’s decline last year, winning just five of 12 Tests, compelled the RFU to sever ties in December but the 63-year-old still departed with the highest win record of any Red Rose boss with 73 per cent.

Now he has turned his attention to reviving the Wallabies ahead of a possible quarter-final appearance against the side he oversaw for seven years at this autumn’s World Cup.

In doing so, all connection with England has been severed.

“I don’t watch England. I want that team to do OK, but there’s no emotional attachment to that team any more,” Jones said.

“I’ve been lucky enough to coach internationally and when I go to a team I love the team I’m coaching, but then when I move I don’t have any regrets, any bad feelings.

“England are just one of the six teams in the Six Nations. I watch them, I think about them like all the teams – how I would coach them if I had that team?

“And then if we come up against them I’ve already got something in my head.”

England are now overseen by Steve Borthwick, who was Jones’ number two with Japan before being appointed to his coaching staff for his first World Cup cycle in charge at Twickenham.

Jones was a regular at Leicester’s training ground when Borthwick joined the Tigers as director of rugby, but their communication has since dwindled.

“It’s dried up a bit,” Jones said.

England performed no better under Borthwick during the recent Six Nations, managing only two wins to finish fourth in the table.

Borthwick stated after a dispiriting loss to Scotland in the opener that he inherited a team that “weren’t good at anything” and while Jones agrees, he stresses he was laying the foundations for the World Cup.

Jones was reshaping England’s attack configured around a creative axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell and he remains convinced it was the right path, warning Borthwick that conservative tactics in France this autumn will not be enough to seize South Africa’s global crown.

“It is true (“England weren’t good at anything”). We were trying to build a team to win the World Cup,” Jones said.

“I don’t believe you are going to be able to win the World Cup by just kicking. I don’t believe you can. I can be proven wrong.

“But I think with the grounds as they are, you are going to need to play more positive rugby. Steve was right.”

Jones’ last appearance at Twickenham saw England booed from the pitch following defeat to South Africa in the climax to the autumn. Being greeted in the same way on Sunday has not crossed his mind.

“I never worry about things I can’t control. I don’t control that, so it’s no use even thinking about it,” he said.

Eddie Jones feels no bitterness over the way his England reign ended as he prepares to make his first appearance at Twickenham since being sacked by the Rugby Football Union.

Jones takes charge of the Barbarians against a World XV on Sunday in a brief interruption to his new duties as Australia head coach.

He departed in December as England’s most successful boss with a win rate of 73 per cent, but the decline in results over the last two years compelled the RFU to act and Steve Borthwick was appointed in his place.

England were booed off the field by disgruntled fans in the climax to a dismal autumn, but Jones is still looking forward to his Twickenham return.

When asked if he had any regrets over his exit, Jones replied: “No, none at all.

“I had a great seven years here, I loved it. I bet I’m the last foreign coach who coaches for seven years here. First and last.

“Loved my time here and I’m looking forward to Sunday. The sun is shining. It will be unbelievable.”

Jones is unconcerned by the prospect of being greeted with boos in the final match of the 2022-23 season.

“I never worry about things I can control. I don’t control that, so it’s no use even thinking about it,” he said.

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.”

Wales great Alun Wyn Jones will captain Eddie Jones’ Barbarians in their fixture against the World XV at Twickenham on Sunday.

Jones announced he is retiring from the international game on Friday having amassed 170 caps, including 12 for the British and Irish Lions, in a decision that means he will miss this autumn’s World Cup.

The 37-year-old Ospreys lock captains a side that includes Australia stars Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi.

World XV coach Steve Hansen has pressed ahead with the controversial selection of Israel Folau on the right wing.

The Rugby Football Union has decided to raise the pride flag at Twickenham for the game after Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 because of a series of anti-gay posts on social media.

Italy flanker Michele Lamaro skippers the side in the final fixture of the 2022-23 season.

Barbarians team: G Anscombe, A Radwan, S Tamanivalu, S Kerevi, T Li; Q Cooper, J Maunder; A Waller, N Dolly, E Pieretto, AW Jones (capt), S Lewies, A Wainwright, K Yamamoto, S Luatua.
Replacements: H Thacker, T West, C Sadie, R Simmons, S Vailanu, F Hougaard, A Cruden, S Johnson.

World XV team: C Piutau; I Folau, S Radradra, N Laumape, Sbu Nkosi; Adam Hastings, Nick Phipps; W Jones, F Brown, O Kebble, A Ratuniyarawa, H Hockings, S Negri, M Lamaro (capt), V Mata.
Replacements: E Dee, A Dell, M Street, N Cannone, J Murphy, B Hall, R Patchell, K Rasaku.

Sale Sharks have tapped into Sir Alex Ferguson’s revered motivational powers ahead of the Gallagher Premiership final against Saracens.

The former Manchester United manager visited Sale’s Carrington training base on Tuesday, where he addressed the squad.

Ferguson oversaw two Champions League triumphs and 13 Premier League title successes during a remarkable and lengthy spell as United boss.

And the 81-year-old Scot became Sale’s latest keynote contributor after rugby league great Jamie Peacock spoke to the players ahead of their play-off victory over Leicester earlier this month.

Sale have reached their first Premiership final since 2006, when they won the title at Tigers’ expense and were inspired by the likes of Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal.

Saracens now await at Twickenham on Saturday, with the highest-placed teams following the regular Premiership season going head-to-head.

Asked how Ferguson’s visit materialised, Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson joked: “We’ve got a special Man United red phone like the bat phone in the corner of the office for emergencies.

“No, I got a call from Ged (Sale part-owner Ged Mason) asking about it and it fell into place. They are good friends with a shared investment with racehorses.

“We thought we would try and wring a little bit of gold out of Sir Alex – and he didn’t disappoint.

“He had the lads on the edge of their seats and he came up with some real good bits of advice – not new stuff, but when it comes from Sir Alex’s mouth, it is gospel, isn’t it?

“It is small percentages of what you can add, an increased feeling of how special this week is. It was good to have him in and good to have him in our corner.”

Sale centre Manu Tuilagi had already been inspired by Ferguson ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, when he was invited by then England boss Eddie Jones to speak with the squad.

Tuilagi said: “It was amazing seeing him again. We met him in 2019 just before the World Cup. He is a legend of the world.

“He said a few words and gave us some wisdom to take into the weekend. He has been at the top of his game, he knows what he is doing.

“You learn from people like that who have been there and done it.”

And Sale number eight Jono Ross, who plays his final game before retirement on Saturday, added: “Obviously a few of us – including myself – are very much in awe of Sir Alex, but he is a fantastic man and it was really nice just to take little bits and bobs off him.

“It is pretty special when someone of that magnitude walks into the building and as you can expect, the boys were glued to his every word.

“He achieved so much within the game and the way he speaks, you turn your head and listen.

“Sir Alex spoke about a few things that worked for him. He said he definitely remembers the losses more than the wins, so don’t lose, basically!”

Sale captain Ben Curry, meanwhile, was due to undergo surgery on Tuesday after suffering a serious hamstring injury during the play-off game.

“He should be back in time for the start of the World Cup, but that’s being fit,” Sanderson said.

“He would have done all of the prep and none of the lead-in, so it would be wholly on (England head coach) Steve Borthwick’s shoulders to see fit whether or not he is worthy of being included.

“He (Curry) has been very much involved – he’s been getting good luck messages in from Man United players. He has been upbeat, despite the fact he might miss the World Cup and he will miss the (Premiership) final.”

Steve Hansen applauds the Rugby Football Union’s decision to raise the pride flag above Twickenham on Sunday after acknowledging his selection of Israel Folau for the World XV is controversial.

Folau, a Christian fundamentalist, will face Eddie Jones’ Barbarians on Sunday four years after he was sacked by Rugby Australia for publishing a series of anti-gay posts on social media.

The 34-year-old has switched national allegiance and will represent Tonga at the World Cup this autumn having returned to rugby union following an aborted spell in league, the code that launched his career.

The RFU has signalled it will respond to the presence of Folau at Twickenham with a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community by flying the rainbow flag.Hansen, the mastermind of New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup triumph, welcomes the move but insists Folau deserves to be involved in the invitational fixture on the strength of his ability as a player.

“I think it’s great. It’s a consequence of Folau’s selection and I think it’s a good thing. It’s an opportunity to show support to that flag. I don’t have a problem with it,” Hansen said.

“There wouldn’t be one there if Israel wasn’t playing so whenever we can bring attention to people who are suffering in a positive way, that’s good.

“They deserve to be loved and cared for as much as anybody else. If we all did that it’d be a happy place, wouldn’t it.

“Israel Folau is a very good rugby player. He’s world class. And I know by picking him that there will be some people hurt. And I get that.

“However, I want those people to understand that Israel’s belief and views are not ours. And we don’t agree with them.

“But he’s a rugby player first and foremost and he’s been sanctioned. Those sanctions have finished, he’s playing rugby, he’s probably going to go to the World Cup so my job is to pick the best team I can pick and that’s what I’ve done.”

Hansen will attempt to lift some of the gloom surrounding rugby union by ordering his star-studded World XV side to “put on a show” against the Barbarians.

But the 64-year-old Kiwi still retains misgivings about the drive to stamp out dangerous play that he believes is counter-productive and has brought a “dourness” to the game.

“We see a lot of red cards and while I understand that I just don’t understand why we ruin the game with them,” Hansen said.

“Fans want to see a contest – one of the biggest principles of the game is a fair contest – and we’re giving people red cards for unintentional accidents and calling it foul play.

“If you keep giving red cards out people will think the game’s dirty so it’s imploding upon itself.

“It’s easy for me to sit here and have all the answers, but somehow we’ve got to bring a more common-sense approach to finding a solution rather than just a penalty.

“I wonder if we do this because we want to be able to say ‘well at least we’ve done that’ if we then go to a court hearing?

“That’s pretty cynical of me to think like that, but I can’t help it because sending players off is not fixing the problem.

“Is the data saying we are getting less head knocks by doing what we are doing at the moment? I don’t think so.”

Jack Nowell has ruled himself out of England’s plans ahead of the World Cup in France later this year.

Nowell, who is currently recovering from a knee injury, looks set to join European champions La Rochelle ahead of next season.

And 30-year-old Nowell has decided to take himself out of the selection frame, effectively signalling an end to his 46-cap England career.

England’s current selection policy dictates that players plying their trade overseas are not considered for Test duty.

“I am not doing the World Cup, no World Cup. I am just going to chill and get my knee sorted,” Nowell told the RugbyPass Offload podcast.

“It was a hard decision not to put myself in for selection for the World Cup, but I thought it was probably one that I had to make for myself and my family as well.

“We are going to make the most of being back home in Cornwall, probably spend the next few weeks there and we have got our testimonial tournament at Sandy Park on June 3.

“I was in contact with (England head coach Steve Borthwick) ‘Borthers’ and he let me know I wasn’t going to be involved in the Six Nations, which was completely fair enough. New coach, new ideas.

“I was happy with that, it was my last year at the club (Exeter), so I got to really focus on doing my best for the club and try and focus on getting us into the big games at the end of the season.

“When you do sign abroad, you have an option of signing pre-World Cup or post-World Cup. For me, I made the decision that it was probably best for me and my family to sign a pre-World Cup contract.”

Borthwick turned to the likes of Anthony Watson, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Henry Arundell during the Six Nations, with wing a hugely-competitive area.

Nowell added: “I am sure it would be a bit different if I was talking to Steve all the time and I have spoken to him since then to tell him my decision.

“I think I was in his World Cup plans, especially for the first get-togethers as a big squad, but I decided not to do that and make sure my family get settled in France and make sure I get settled in France.

“As much as I would like to have done this one (World Cup) and given it a good crack, sometimes you have got to read between the lines and understand you are probably not in the coach’s favour.

“Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have fought for my position and got myself back into playing, but family comes first for me.”

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