Johannesburg - John Plumtree believes the battle for the top four Currie Cup positions is still wide open, insisting there will be several twists and turns in the remaining round robin matches.
The Sharks coach was preparing his team this week for a home clash against Griquas on Friday, a match that comes hot on the heels of an emphatic 53-32 loss to the Free State Cheetahs at the weekend.
That defeat, coupled with Western Province losing to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria, means the Sharks and their Cape rivals share second place with 32 points.
Province are ahead on points difference while the Cheetahs are now just two points behind.
The Golden Lions are runaway leaders in the domestic competition, having won all but one of their 10 games so far, although they play all the big four unions in their remaining rounds.
"It's hard to really tell (what's going to happen) because everyone's got to play against everyone, so it's still wide open," Plumtree said on Tuesday.
"We're seeing the Bulls and Cheetahs come into some real form, but obviously the Lions are still the side to beat.
"It's coming to the business end of the season and sides are getting better, so it's up to us to make sure we're right up there too."
The defending champions have one of the better draws in the last few rounds before the playoffs, with three home matches and one away game, which will be played against the log bottom Leopards.
"We've got a new challenge this week against Griquas," Plumtree said.
"We're looking forward to it and we have some home games now, so we still have that opportunity (to finish strongly)."
Plumtree's first priority this week, however, is to regather his troops following their crushing loss in Bloemfontein.
"We didn't adapt enough to the referee's interpretations of the game," he said.
"Defensively, we also let ourselves down and on two or three occasions it led to them scoring points.
"At the same time, we played some quite good rugby as well.
"Obviously to get a bonus point was pleasing, and ultimately we played against a side that was better than us on the day.
"The Cheetahs played some outstanding rugby. Some of the tries they scored were pretty hard to defend, their off-loading was fantastic and we were facing a side that probably played the best we've faced this year."
Sharks backs Stefan Terblanche and Adrian Jacobs missed training on Tuesday because of flu, with the former also experiencing a minor hip problem.
However, good news for the Sharks is that lock Ross Skeate has recovered quicker than expected from a broken nose and may feature against Griquas, while scrumhalf Charl McLeod (shoulder) and frontrower Wiehahn Herbst (hip) are over their respective injuries.
Ryan Kankowski remains sidelined with a broken thumb.
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