TRU Exclusive with Hendre Fourie and Mark Cueto

Year 7 children from Stretford Grammar School with Hendre Fourie
Keen learners flanked by Sale Sharks' Michael Paterson and Mark Cueto
Kids from Stretford Grammar School with Sale Sharks' Mark Cueto and Ian O'Doherty, CEO of MBNA
Sale's Mark Cueto in action

Former England and Sale Sharks flanker Hendre Fourie has sadly had to announce his retirement from the professional game this season, after battling with a long-standing shoulder injury. However, the South African born forward has embarked on a new challenge – Number Cruncherz.

Sale Sharks and MBNA have launched the initiative - which aims to use the power of rugby to teach money management skills to 11 and 12 year olds in England and Wales - with the help of former internationals Fourie, Mark Cueto and former New Zealand U21 Michael Paterson.

The ‘Number Cruncherz’ programme has been developed for Year 7 children with the help of the UK’s leading financial education charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group).

Ian O’Doherty, Chief Executive of MBNA, said: “By taking lessons outside of the school environment with the help of some of the biggest names in English rugby, we’re aiming to help thousands of children better manage their money in the future and provide them with a good foundation for financial literacy in adulthood.”

Talking Rugby Union’s Austin Halewood caught up with Fourie and all-time leading Premiership try scorer Mark Cueto, on the day of the launch, to talk about their involvement in the scheme and all things rugby.

Hendre recalled his eventual decision to retire by explaining how, after lots battling, “it was on medical advice from the doctors and physicians” that it would be too dangerous to keep playing the game.

“I wanted to stay in rugby, but I didn’t fancy jumping right into the deep-end with a coaching role – so this community position would be a great starting point to build up confidence for coaching kids and then build up from there.” he added.

Hendre continued by explaining a bit more about the Number Cruncherz scheme:

“The whole plan is to get the kids out of the classroom to the AJ Bell Stadium, where we will use the rugby club as a base to work off.

“We use the acquiring of players as expenses, income from ticket sales as there income and when then give them a bit of a budget to work out where they would sit.

“The session finishes with a game of touch rugby, so the kids can get that physical side of things too.”

Mark Cueto, Sale Shark and former England World Cup finalist, was also at the scheme’s launch at the AJ Bell Stadium; he added “a few of the players have been down at the Stadium with the kids, getting involved in the practical stuff.

“We’ve had a few pictures with the kids and the sponsors, but they all seem to be enjoying it and getting something from the scheme – and that’s the main thing.”

Moving away from the scheme and into the rugby, Mark explained his recent decision to extend his contract at the club for another season – a wise decision for a player in such great form.

“That’s exactly the point really,” Mark added, “I had considered retirement, I’m 34 now, so I’m obviously getting on for a professional sportsman,” he joked, “so you can’t look too far ahead."

“It was probably only 12 months ago when the team wasn’t doing too well, I was struggling with injuries, and it just wasn’t really a great place to be,” Mark admitted.

“I seriously considered retiring at the end of that season but, fortunately, I had this season on my contract. I had a good break in the summer, good pre-season and obviously the team has been going great, I physically feel really good and have been playing relatively well, so things are going well.

“With things going so well, half way through the season, the thought starts to creep into your mind – maybe I can do another year.

“However, I gave it a lot of thought and didn’t commit to it too early; I left it longer to sign than I ever have before, but I made sure I knew it was the right thing to do.”

Sale are currently enjoying a successful season with a string of good results. The Sharks sit sixth in the Premiership – just two points behind Harlequins and Leicester, joined on 36 and four points behind Bath in third.

Cueto admitted that, although a fourth place finish and a spot in the playoffs is well-within reach, “finishing top six is the target – that’s what we began the season with the intention of achieving.

“I know it’s a bit of an old cliché, but you’ve got to just take every game as it comes. We have found ourselves roughly where we targeted at the start of the season, but that middle bunch of teams is so tight, so you never know.

“With a bit of luck we could end up in that playoff spot – which would be massive for Sale; but, at the same time I think the real target is to cement a place in that top six.”

In January the Sharks lost two of their best academy prospects, in the form of James Gaskall and England international Henry Thomas, but Hendre, himself a forward, believes that the loss of players is just a part of rugby.

“Every year you get players leaving,” Hendre explained, “but at the same time you get lots of new faces coming back in.

“I think Dimes [Sale Director of Rugby Steve Diamond] is great at bringing in players who will fit right into the team.

“James and Henry are both big names to lose, but you will always be able to find people that can cover the role or maybe even be better at it – it’s a blow, but it’s also an opportunity for somebody else.”

With the Six Nations now in full swing, we asked Mark – a vastly experienced international winger – about the country’s future speedsters.

England have a plethora of young talent available, including Marland Yarde, Christian Wade and Jack Nowell, but who will cement their place for the long-haul?

“It’s an exciting time for the future of English Rugby,” Mark began, “but unfortunately at the moment we’ve got a lot injuries, with the likes of Yarde and Wade both out.

“Those are the guys we’re looking at for the future and possibly even the World Cup. However, for me we’ve always had talent in the back three, whether you go back to the days of Cohen and Balshaw, now there’s Foden, Ashton and Brown, we’ve always had talent, it’s just a matter of making the most of it!

“As a national team, pretty much since Will Greenwood retired, we have seemed to struggle to make the most of the talent we have out wide.

“We have a team at the minute that is full of confidence, a gritty and determined team that is based on aggression in defence and line speed, but we’re not moving the ball out wide that well.

“We don’t get the ball out wide, with space to run at defenders, we just seem to ship it along and give our winger a ball with three defenders on him and expect him to create a miracle.

“For me I think this is the next level England need to go to be successful. I think we’ve got a real good foundation but it’s developing that attacking side of the game on the international stage.”

Sale next take on Saracens this Friday night under the lights at the AJ Bell stadium. 

The Sharks Community Trust – the charity arm of Sale Sharks, will deliver the programme across the North West and North Wales. Any school wishing to take part should email for more details on how to get involved.