Sale Sharks have not quite had the consistency to compete for a top four spot in recent years but Peter Stringer says this season is as good a chance as ever to set the record straight.
Sharks certainly made a statement last week after matching Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Saracens in a
pulsating 36-36 draw – indeed, if not for a few errant Danny Cipriani kicks, they would have won.
It left Sale down in eighth, but they are just six points behind fourth-place Leicester Tigers and next face a Harlequins side who also have semi-final aspirations this year.
Stringer and company are yet to be beaten at the AJ Bell in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season, while Harlequins have slipped to four away defeats in a row.
But veteran scrum-half Stringer is not taking that record for granted this weekend as the season approaches its final bend.
“Between the top eight or nine teams in this league, it’s so competitive,” he said. “Teams are either fighting for survival or searching for a top-six or top-four place so there are no easy games.
“Quins came up against a good Wasps side at the weekend who are playing really well, and in and around the middle of the table everyone has an opportunity to get into the top four.
“It’s never easy but if we want to get there it’s about winning these games and Quins is the next step on the road to doing that.
“It was disappointing the way we let Saracens back in because the first 20 minutes we were on fire, everything was coming off.
“They’re a quality side with a great squad but we need to be closing those games out so from our point of view it’s frustrating to have the lead and give it up.”
Harlequins have only won one of their last six games in all tournaments though, when it comes to Sale, their sole defeat in their last ten encounters came back in November 2014.
The Sharks will likely be a different prospect altogether considering their form at the AJ Bell and while Cipriani may get all the attention, Charlie Walker insists his side can’t afford to concentrate on one man.
“Sale are playing well, they’ve got a huge pack and I think the organisation around Danny Cipriani pulling the strings – if you let him control the game it’s going to be a tough day,” said the winger.
“But it’s also hard to stop boys when they’ve got that many big forwards like that, and we’ve got to focus and get it right at the breakdown to come away with a win.
“I don’t think there’s any particular reason teams don’t like visiting the stadium, though being from a bit further up North from the Midlands I can tell you the weather usually plays a part and not many people like that.
“You always know you’re in for a battle at places like Welford Road, and they’re turning their stadium into a place like that.”
(AJ Bell Stadium, 2.30pm)
Referee: Ian Tempest (15th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell & Steve Lee. TMO: Trevor Fisher.