Fear of an unwanted treble drove Leicester Tigers into top gear against Sale, says Matt Smith
Centre Matt Smith said that the fear of three consecutive defeats helped Leicester Tigers put together their most complete 80 minutes of the season against Sale.
Tigers ran riot against the Aviva Premiership's bottom club at the weekend to go into the three-week break with a bonus-point 48-10 win.
It took them to within just a point of second-placed Harlequins with five games left.
Smith says Leicester were spurred on to success by the fear of continuing a two-game winless run after defeats by Harlequins and Saracens.
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"Three wins on the trot is unheard of here and we spoke all week about putting a big performance together," said the 27-year-old.
"Apart from the opening 15 minutes (against Sale) when we left two or three tries out there, it was a pretty good 80-minute performance.
"We were shocked in those opening 20 minutes because there was a lot more space about than we have been used to in recent weeks. It actually caught us by surprise.
"It was a nice day, weather-wise, and it made a difference playing without freezing hands and in good conditions.
"It's been frustrating not being able to run with it as much as we would have liked in recent times."
Smith put in one of his best performances of the season, running in two of Tigers' six tries during a golden five-minute second-half spell.
Flat passes from George Ford – who kicked eight out of eight with the boot – and Dan Bowden created space for Smith's scores, and the outside-centre was full of praise for the men on his inside.
"I have played a couple of times with Dan and we are forging a good relationship," said Smith.
"Dan is a fly-half, playing at inside-centre. He has a lovely dummy and is a great reader of the game, too.
"George is a confident lad for his age and he is an amazing player. He trained well leading up to the game and that performance will give him a boost.
"We have a couple of weeks without a game now and then the internationals will be back.
"There will be some really good competition in the squad when they return."
Tigers flanker Tom Croft will train with the England squad this week in preparation for the Six Nations game with Italy on Sunday.
The 27-year-old returned to form with a sensational performance in Tigers' win against Sale.
Croft is back from nine months out with a neck injury.