George Ford and Sale Sharks relishing the heat of Play-Off battle

George Ford is relishing the ‘do-or-die’ nature of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby run-in as his Sale Sharks side look to seal a top four finish in a season like no other.

As it stands, no team is assured of a place in the top four, let alone a home knockout game, with everything set to go down to the wire when the regular season finishes on May 18.

Runners-up a year ago, Ford’s Sharks are looking to return to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final 2024 and having looked out of contention, 15 points from a possible 15 since the end of March have led them back into the hunt.

Sale host their fly-half’s former club Leicester Tigers, the 2022 champions whose hopes are also still mathematically alive, on Friday night as a rollercoaster season prepares for its next twists and turns.

“The competition has never been like this before,” Ford said.

“There are probably six, seven or eight teams that can make top four. Every game seems to be a bit of a crunch game and it is becoming really hard to predict, which is great for the competition.

“When it comes to the end of the year and you are in the mix a little bit, you get excited because you maybe have an opportunity to go and win something.

“That as a player invigorates you and brings the best out of you. We are coming to that time of the season where it is do or die games. It focuses your attention and enthuses me.”

Northampton Saints top the table on 55 points and can wrap up a home semi-final with victory at home to Gloucester Rugby on Saturday.

Below Saints, anyone from Saracens in second to Exeter Chiefs in seventh could conceivably host a Play-Off game.

The reigning champions head to Bristol Bears knowing victory would put them in a strong position to host a semi-final but Bears have won six league games in a row to move up to fourth.

Bristol’s final day trip to Harlequins could end up being a de facto quarter-final. As it stands, the teams are both on 49 points, with Bristol in fourth spot and Quins fifth.

Just above that pair are Bath Rugby. Sat on 50 points, they could have taken a giant step towards qualification by beating Saracens but after going down 15-12, they will now need to bounce back at Kingston Park, where they take on winless Newcastle Falcons.

Exeter Chiefs have no margin for error. Sitting four points behind Bristol Bears in fourth, they host Harlequins before travelling to Leicester Tigers.

Ford’s focus, however, remains firmly on the job his side have at hand.

“We have been in a position for a number of weeks now where all we have had to focus on is performing well and winning because for us to have any sort of chance, we knew we had to go on an unbeaten run,” he said.

“It has been pretty simple and crystal clear for us in terms of what we need to do.

“We have got two regular games of the Premiership left, we understand that we are going to have to go and win two.

“Bigger picture for us, we don’t just want to go and scrape through these next two games just to make it hopefully make it through. We want to go and play well beyond that as well.”

Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final tickets are on-sale now, family packages from £98

Image credit: Reuters Connect via Beat Media Group subscription

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