England World Cup winner Jason Robinson has recalled his transformative time at Sale playing alongside the enigmatic Sebastien Chabal. The ex-rugby league legend moved from Wigan to the Sharks in 2000 and while he was able to use his own form as a springboard into the England and Lions set-ups, it wasn’t until the arrival of the French brigade under coach Philippe Saint-Andre in 2004 that Sale became a feared club powerhouse.
The Manchester side won the Premiership title in 2006 with Chabal at the forefront after the French forward followed Saint-Andre from Bourgoin to England. Sebastian Bruno also joined from Beziers, as did Lionel Faure from Pau.
The story of how Sale defeated Wasps in the semi-final and then got the better of Leicester at Twickenham to clinch their first Premiership title, breaking the seven-year stranglehold those two clubs had on the league, has now been retold in the latest Rugby Stories podcast on BT Sportwith twice union World Cup finalist Robinson particularly dwelling on the galvanising Chabal influence.
“You look at someone like Sebastian Chabal, he wasn’t known as well when he came in and Sale was so good for him and Sale was so good for them because he grew so much while he was at Sale,” explained Robinson.
“He came in, had short hair, was clean-shaven. All of a sudden through him coming in and committing to the club he has grown his hair, has a beard, his performances go off the scale and he has created that character.
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“He certainly was performing and, for us, it was brilliant because he was a talisman. You’d see the hair flying about, he was very fit, loved the contact, loved to grab people by the throat and just, you know what I mean, be a pain in the backside, loved to take the ball back and carry and it was great because he slotted in so well.”
Second row Dean Schofield, who was capped by England the year after Sale won the Premiership title, added: “I don’t think the French lads were on big, big money, I just think they wanted to play for Philippe. He created an environment where you just wanted to play for Philippe.
“There is a story about the French lads, a run at Lyme Park which is up in the sticks. It was a really cold day and it started snowing – we can’t see two meters in front of us and it was a whiteout. So you imagine Sebastian Chabal with his arms folded with the snow plowing against his beard.
“The French boys didn’t want to train in the rain, never mind being stuck on the top of a hill in Derbyshire with torrential snow and the fitness coach ran, he left us up there. I don’t know what the French lads would have done if they had got their hands on him that day but he ran off. Luckily we gingerly got off the top of that hill.
“I don’t know how we did it but the French lads, I have fond memories of them but they just didn’t want to train. They hated the rain, they hated the cold, they definitely hated the snow and they played in Manchester which you can’t get away from at all.”
Schofield also recalled his first meeting with coach Saint-Andre, describing the put-down he experience as brutal. “It was tough. My first-ever meeting with Philippe he told me that I wasn’t good enough. The first meeting he was harsh, he was brutally honest, straight down the line.
“I had been nurtured with Jim Mallinder and Steve (Diamond) as a young player coming through who started late and it filled me full of confidence. My first meeting with Philippe he said, ‘You’re not good enough, you have got to buck your ideas up or there is not a part for you in this club’. You cant get any straighter than that.
“It was a really big moment in my career, it could have gone one way or the other. It was either stick with Philippe or join another club. Sale was for me. I wanted to prove I was good enough for this team and pre-season I remember running, it must have been a 10k run. It might have been five but it felt like ten, felt like 20.
“I didn’t finish the run, I ended up in hospital. I trained myself into the ground in the off-season and I still remember it to this day. I ran and I ran and I ran and I ran myself into hospital, I was desperate to get into this team.”
- For the full Sale episode, check out BT Sport’s podcast series, Rugby Stories, part of the BT Sport Pods lineup of podcasts. Every Monday, Rugby Stories, presented by Craig Doyle, will spotlight and celebrate English club rugby history. Btsport.com/pods