George Ford has highlighted “hard work and a clear way of playing” as the foundation for Leicester’s two-year rise from Gallagher Premiership relegation candidates to title contenders.
Silverware will be up for grabs when the Tigers meet Saracens at Twickenham next Saturday in their first Premiership final since 2013.
And it is a far cry from the 2019-20 campaign, when Leicester only avoided relegation because Saracens were demoted for repeated salary cap breaches.
Steve Borthwick took over as head coach a couple of months later, with the Tigers now unbeaten at home in domestic competition for more than a year and having been Premiership table-toppers throughout the entire 24-game regular season.
“We were a million miles away. It felt like that, and that was the reality,” England international fly-half Ford said.
“It wasn’t too long ago. We went up to Newcastle on a Friday night, and that was billed as the relegation game.
“Credit goes to Steve, the coaches and the players, because you need to have the right attitude and mindset to come in and get better, accept where we are and do something about it.
I am proud, because two years ago we were a long way awayLeicester fly-half George Ford
“There is nothing magical about it, it has just been hard work and a clear way of playing and consistency with which we do it and the togetherness of the group to fight for each other.
“I am proud, because two years ago we were a long way away, and what we have done now is give ourselves an opportunity.”
Ford’s final home appearance for Leicester ahead of him joining Sale later this summer was one to savour.
His 22-point haul, comprising a try, conversion, drop-goal and four penalties, helped the Tigers topple play-off opponents Northampton 27-14.
And it set up a mouth-watering tussle against Saracens, with the clubs sharing 13 Premiership crowns between them.
Ford added: “We don’t want to be happy with just giving ourselves an opportunity. We go to work this week.
“We are against a brilliant team in Saracens, who have got world-class players across the board, and we are going to have to be somewhere near our very, very best to get the result.
“Being in a final, that is enough motivation in itself to try and go and finish the job off.
“I would love nothing more than to go out on a high and create a really special memory with this group of people, so of course it is going to be part of my motivation. You are in this sport to win.”
Leicester trailed 14-13 with just 17 minutes left, but a storming finish saw them eclipse their east midlands rivals in a derby clash of high intensity.
“There were so many things that didn’t go our way – we got punched in the face numerous times,” Ford said.
“Whether that was Northampton doing something really well or us doing something not so good, or we didn’t come away with points at the right time. Maybe 18 months ago that would have really affected us a team.
“You probably have two choices when something like that happens.
“You can relish it and embrace it and say ‘here it is, brilliant’ or you can think ‘I have just been smacked in the face, it is a bit of a shock, I will go within myself for five or 10 minutes’.
“That is really difficult to get out of if you choose that option.”