Alex Sanderson, the Sale Sharks director of rugby, has never been afraid to push the boundaries to prepare his players for extreme physical and mental challenges which is why six Thai masseurs arrived at the club’s Carrington training ground this week as the team dealt with a five day turnaround between matches.
While this latest example of Sanderson’s left field thinking appears to have reached the limits of socially acceptable options, the only happy ending he is looking for is victory over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
The Sale players have seen a host of new techniques and experts introduced by Sanderson since he took over from Steve Diamond including the installation of a mental gym aimed at improving his players’ breathing, calisthenic movement, mental resilience and “intentional thinking”.
So, who gave Sanderson the idea of hiring six Thai masseurs to help the squad recover from a bruising Heineken Champions Cup 45-19 defeat by Toulouse in France on Sunday?
Step up Manu Tuilagi, the England centre, who has endured years of injury induced frustration and aching limbs. “ With a five day turnaround you cannot afford to work the players too much and have to get your head around it and that is why we have had a team of Thai masseurs in bending and tying the lads in knots and they loved it.
“I am very fond of massages and a big fan of Thailand. I don’t get massages for my bad back through the club because the time is needed for the players. I was getting them done at a health club but it was expensive and so I asked Manu where I could get a decent massage because my back and neck are in pieces.
“Manu said he had found a place and it is a legit Thai Massage in Altringham and so I went for a massage and there was a sign on the wall saying any propositions and you will be thrown out. You have to keep your boxer shorts on and so at that point I knew it was a safe place and they were brilliant. Really professional.
“So, when we were looking ahead to this five day turnaround around I suggested we get some Thai masseurs in because they work with the muscles and the contact helps the lads feel more recovered. I recommended them to our team manager and a fleet of six of them arrived and the players absolutely loved it. We have quite a large medical room and we set up the treatment beds and the players rotated through and Tom Curry was literally bent double by a Thai lady with her knee in his back doing a full Nelson on him.
“I think Tom was totally surprised how strong she was and I am going to canvas opinion from the lads about doing it again. I had spoken to someone about using a cryochamber and there are also ice baths and hot baths you can use which can be utilised for these short turnarounds to help the players prepare.
“It is not just the physical recovery for a five dayer, you also have to get your head around the challenge and our players on Tuesday had a Thai massage followed by a full Christmas dinner. When you are dealing with this hamster wheel you can miss special moments in life like Christmas week and so things that they can get excited about are important and are part of the recovery after a heavy defeat.”
Thanks to the fixture schedule the Sale players have been given Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off before returning to training on Boxing Day to prepare for Premiership champions Leicester at home on Dec 30.“We then have a nine day break before our next game and we are giving the players some time to enjoy the New Year: “added Sanderson who is expecting a tough battle tomorrow night under the lights in the North East.
Tuilagi misses the game as his concussion protocols end that day but he will be available to face former club Leicester. Sandersons said: “Newcastle have been building up for this match for bragging rights in the North for two weeks and we arrive second in the league. We are well aware of the threat pose with a five day turnaround.”
Newcastle have been looking to tap into Argentina’s World Cup victory with their trio of Pumas Matias Orlando, Mateo Carreras and Matias Moroni celebrating their country’s triumph in the North East although it has cost them fines imposed on the South Americans by the rest of the squad after they turned up for a team meeting wearing the national football kit.
Dave Walder , the Falcons head coach, said: “ They have been brilliant and turned up for our team meeting in Argentina football shirts and have now been fined for not wearing regulation kit so that has started them off again. They watched the final together and are riding the crest of a wave.”