Gareth Steenson hopes the lessons of previous mistakes will help fire Exeter Chiefs into the play-offs for the new top European competition.
Last weekend’s 38-33 win at Worcester moved the Sandy Park outfit up to seventh place in the Aviva Premiership.
And with the team that finishes seventh set to take on the seventh-placed team in France’s top tier for the final spot in the European Rugby Champions Cup next season, Rob Baxter’s men have something to play for over the last three matches.
Fly-half Steenson, who was recalled for the win at Sixways, admits the players have got carried away in the past and looked too far ahead.
Now the 30-year-old insists they will focus on beating Sale at home this weekend before worrying about the matches against Harlequins and Newcastle.
“It gives us something to strive for now that we all know what’s happening with the new format of the European competition,” Steenson said.
“We want to be back up at the top table, playing in the top competition and we’ve got to earn the right to do it. We always seem to make hard work of it.
“For us it’s just about going out and performing against Sale, we can’t look too much further than that. We’ve made the mistake in the past that we’ve started looking further down the line than we should do.
“We need to stick to what we’re good at, and that’s getting ready for the game at the weekend and then assess where we are after that.
“It is a big game for us and it is a big game for them as well. They know that if they come down here and get a result they guarantee getting themselves in that top European competition.
“It’s like a cup final, and it’s a nice thing for us to have it at home in front of our own supporters.”
Exeter have an enviable record against the Sharks in the top flight, only losing once against Steve Diamond’s side.
Steenson knows that counts for nothing this weekend, but added that the hosts will be keen to make up for their 14-13 loss against Gloucester at Sandy Park three weeks ago.
“Whenever you go out to play it’s down to what happens on the day, it doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past,” said Steenson, who kicked six penalties in Exeter’s 18-16 defeat of Sale in November.
“We’re coming off the back of a good win away from home and we’re very aware we lost our last home game and we want to put that right.
“If we can go out and put in a good performance, hopefully the result will look after itself.”
Despite starting against Worcester, when the Chiefs played well, Steenson knows he is not guaranteed to keep the No. 10 jersey against Sale this weekend.
With Henry Slade playing well and Ceri Sweeney pushing for a place, Steenson knows he needs to keep playing well.
“It was very pleasing to get a run last weekend and with the way it went,” he said.
“I’m very aware you have to keep playing well to keep your shirt in this team. Henry has been going really well and Ceri Sweeney is still champing at the bit to get in the team.
“Everybody is pushing everybody else and you’ve got to keep performing. Whatever team is picked for the weekend, we’ll look to put in the best performance possible to keep driving us forward.”