Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson hailed George Ford as “a little pocket of calm amid the chaos” after his team reached a first Gallagher Premiership final for 17 years.
England international fly-half Ford was a dominant presence, guiding Sale home against his former club Leicester in an absorbing play-off clash at a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium.
Ford, who went off injured in last season’s Premiership final when Leicester beat Saracens – Sale’s opponents at Twickenham on May 27 – kicked three penalties and a conversion.
But he also epitomised Sale’s resilient attitude against a Tigers team that pushed them all the way before going down to a 21-13 defeat.
“They are a special group, these boys. They had to drink deep from the well today,” Sale rugby director Sanderson said.
“They stuck to the task, and George Ford drove that – a little pocket of calm amid the chaos.
“You need to be physically up to the task, you need a heart, you have really got to want it. What more can you ask for?
Sale now face Saracens in pursuit of a Premiership crown that they last claimed when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.
And for Sanderson that means preparing a team to try and beat a club he spent several successful seasons with as an integral part of Mark McCall’s coaching staff.
Sale, though, look set to be without captain Ben Curry, who was carried off during the first half after suffering a hamstring injury.
Sanderson added: “He will get a scan tomorrow. He is on crutches and he got carried off. We will see tomorrow, but I doubt if he will make the final.
Wings Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed scored tries for Sale, but Leicester held a 13-10 lead with 24 minutes left before the Ford-inspired Sharks turned things their way.
A battling Leicester performance delivered a second-half try for wing Harry Potter, plus eight points from the boot of 39-year-old Jimmy Gopperth, who was a late replacement for World Cup-winning South African fly-half Handre Pollard.
Tigers’ interim head coach Richard Wigglesworth will join the England set-up of his former Leicester boss Steve Borthwick this summer, and a second successive Premiership final appearance proved just beyond the east Midlanders.
“We stuck in the contest, and we can’t fault the spirit and fight in the group.
“I am incredibly proud to have been asked to lead this group. I am so grateful for how they (Leicester) have treated me.”
And on Pollard’s absence, he added: “We only made that call this morning.
“Handre hadn’t trained for the last couple of training days. It was a calf issue, which is incredibly painful, but it can also clear up at a moment’s notice.”