Durban - Sharks coach John Plumtree has challenged his players to raise their standards as the Currie Cup edges closer to its climax.
The defending champions are in second place on the log with three rounds remaining, after turning in another scratchy performance last weekend in their 29-18 victory over Griquas.
The coastal side, who host Western Province in Durban on Saturday, are yet to convince Plumtree that they can defend their title.
"The standards and expectations of playing for the Sharks is pretty high and we’re not at that required level," Plumtree said on Tuesday.
He said the team could not afford to put their heads in the sand as they approached the business end of the Currie Cup.
"At the moment, we’re not there yet and whether we can get there is really up to us to prove.
The Sharks are missing more than 15 of their first-team regulars, through Springbok duty and injury.
Plumtree felt their absence was playing a role, especially among the forwards where he believed other teams were capitalising.
He said the forwards, in particular, had been targeted by bigger tight fives.
This created a challenge in winning matches, said Plumtree, as the battle started and ended up front.
"So we’ve got a lot of work to do as a forward pack to get that momentum we need to get our backs going," the coach said.
"So the test is really up front and that’s been our biggest challenge all year."
Meanwhile, Sharks fullback Louis Ludik is likely to miss the remainder of the season after he broke a bone in his foot.
Springbok number eight Ryan Kankowski (thumb) and hooker Craig Burden (shoulder) are also still out, while prop Wiehahn Herbst (groin) faced a late fitness test.
However, Plumtree remained positive as they hoped to reach the playoffs.
"We need to play very well as a unit and everyone needs to be able to give 100 percent if we want to get to where we want to go," he said.
"And that is a big challenge in itself, but we’re second on the log and that is positive. Now we have to build on that.
"We’ve got to find some form and secure a semi-final. It starts this week and we’ve got to then hope to carry that form into the finals."