Sale Sharks fly-half George Ford insists his side must be flexible in the way they play in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup due to the variety of teams in the competition.

With the addition of three South African clubs for this campaign, there are now six nations represented across the 24 teams.

Given that diversity of playing styles, Ford believes Sale must be interchangeable with their approach in order to have a successful competition.

“I think it’s probably the most hotly contested tournament you can play in,” the England international said. “You’re playing against all the top teams in Europe and every game you play in, from the group stage

“And if you’re lucky enough to make it through the group stage, the knockout stages are probably the closest to Test level you can come to.

“To be successful in it is a pretty special thing to do, so that what makes it special as a player to play in.

“You come up against different teams from different countries who have different ways of playing, so you probably have to be a bit more of a rounded and adaptable team to do well in this tournament.”

Ford has twice been a beaten finalist in the EPCR Challenge Cup, losing with Bath Rugby in 2014 and his previous club, Leicester Tigers, in 2021.

He says he is more motivated than ever to enjoy glory in an EPCR competition, with those two defeats a reminder of the quality of the tournaments.

“I’d love to [lift the Heineken Champions Cup],” he admitted. “It’s probably one of the more difficult tournaments to win. If you do give yourself a chance to get to the knockout stages, you want to take it there and then.

“Obviously, I’ve tasted defeat in the final in the Challenge Cup. On the day you’ve got to perform if you get there. That’s why whoever is European champion totally deserves it.”

“You want to put yourself in a good position if you can. We’ve got Ulster [Rugby] at home first and they’re going really well, so we’ll be focusing on that and trying to get that momentum into our pool stage straightaway.”

After hosting Ulster on December 11, Sale visit 2021 champions Stade Toulousain, and Ford says one of his fondest memories of the Heineken Champions Cup came in France last season.

“We went to Bordeaux away last year in the first round when I was at my previous club (Leicester). You go to a traditional French club like that, and the atmosphere is incredible.

“Not really many people give you much of a chance, when you go away from home in France, but memories like that when you win away in France or wherever it may be are the ones that stick out, so hopefully there’ll be a few more of them this year.”