George Ford has highlighted the importance of “a finals mindset” as Sale Sharks target a first Gallagher Premiership title for 17 years.
Sale confirmed their play-off place – the fourth time they have reached the knockout phase – by beating Bristol at Ashton Gate on Friday night.
And they will return to the west country on Saturday, when victory over Gloucester would secure home advantage, possibly against Ford’s former club and current Premiership champions Leicester next month.
But they had to wait 15 years before reaching the semi-finals again, with their hopes of silverware on that occasion being ended by Exeter.
Ford proved an influential figure in Leicester’s title-winning squad last term, and after the England international fly-half’s Sale Premiership debut was delayed until February while he recovered from a ruptured Achilles, the 30-year-old has eased into his role of playmaker and tactical general.
“We are not going to stand here and talk about winning (the title), but when you put yourself in a position the whole point is to go on and do it,” Ford said.
“If we keep taking steps forward going into that semi-final, hopefully anything can happen when it comes to the semis and hopefully the final.
“We have got to keep the mindset of trying to get better and putting ourselves in that position.
“It is about getting into a finals mindset. We want to exert pressure on teams and come away with points.
“If you change the scoreboard, sometimes you change the way the opposition play. Opportunities come off the back of that.
“If we can get in that sweet-spot, hopefully we will be a difficult team to beat.
“We haven’t been in the best of form recently, but I think there’s been a difference in the last two weeks in the way we have looked at and spoken about our game and, more importantly, taken action to improve it.
“We had to be pretty honest with each other because we want to take a step forward at this time of the year. We don’t just want to hang in there.”
Ford’s all-round excellence will be an essential ingredient for Sale during the Premiership run-in and play-offs.
His 21-point haul against Bristol underpinned a dominant display as the Sharks sailed through a tricky assignment.
Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson said: “He (Ford) is one of the few who has won titles and understand what a championship attitude and mindset is.
“We’ve leant into him, Manu (Tuilagi), Jonny Hill, Tom O’Flaherty and their understanding of it, pull together the best parts of the information and use it for ourselves.”