London - Aaron Mauger backed Leicester to reach the Premiership play-offs after the faltering English giants thrashed basement club Bristol 50-17 at Welford Road on Saturday.
Just over a week ago Leicester were seventh in the 12-strong table and a place in the top four was seemingly out of reach for the Tigers, who last month suffered a humiliating 43-0 defeat by Glasgow in the European Champions Cup.
But Leicester have now taken 10 points from successive home wins over Gloucester and Bristol to move up to fifth place, just four points behind Bath.
For Leicester coach Mauger, promoted from within the Welford Road hierarchy to take charge until the end of the season after director of rugby Richard Cockerill was sacked last month, recent results were a vindication of the Midlands club's resolve.
"We were never out of it, we have always been in contention for the play-offs," said Mauger.
"We believe we will be there at the end. The confidence we have taken from the last two performances is really good for us," the former All Blacks centre added.
"The belief has always been there so it's nice to trigger that with some good performances.
"We talked about playing with more confidence, backing our skills and being decisive and we have done that in the last couple of weeks."
Leicester were 31-10 up at half-time after scoring five tries in 17 minutes, with Springbok wing JP Pietersen marking his return from injury with a double.
Bristol's 13th defeat in 15 league matches this season left them in the lone relegation place and six points adrift of Worcester, who gained a losing bonus point against Exeter.
"We spoke about physicality and looking after the ball and we did neither," said Mark Tainton, Bristol's acting head coach. "We turned over too much ball and that allowed them too much field position."
Bath remained fourth with a 22-12 win at home to Harlequins that left director of rugby Todd Blackadder glad to talk about something other than George Ford.
The playing future of the England flyhalf was settled earlier this week when it was announced that the Bath stand-off would return to Leicester at the end of the season, in a deal worth a reported £500,000, with Freddie Burns moving the other way.
"We move on," said Blackadder. "Internally, it is not really a focus or something we talk about," the former New Zealand international added. "It just means everyone can move forward now."
Meanwhile Exeter boss Rob Baxter was delighted by the finishing of wings James Short and Olly Woodburn in a 48-32 win away to Worcester.
Short grabbed a hat-trick and Woodburn also crossed as Exeter scored seven tries.
"Both wings were outstanding today and have been an important part of our game all season," Baxter said.
Worcester boss Gary Gold was proud of the way his side kept going, the South African saying: I'm disappointed with the result but I'm proud at the way the boys continued to fight and it's a big positive to score four tries."