Cape Town - There can be no denying that the Sharks have had a tougher Super Rugby draw than most.
The worst of it came recently when, over a period of just two weeks, the Sharks played three matches in New Zealand, Durban and then Argentina.
That all followed a three-week tour of New Zealand, and the travel demands must have had some kind of impact on the squad.
But, to his credit, Gary Gold has not complained once.
In any event, the Sharks' troubles this season started well before their tour of New Zealand.
Having emerged very quickly as one of the best defences in the competition, the Sharks then struggled to suggest that they offered any kind of dimension on attack and just how much of a threat they would be with ball in hand was uncertain.
They came unstuck at home against the Crusaders and Lions in successive weeks and looked uninspiring on attack on both occasions.
The tour of New Zealand followed, and the Sharks picked up one win from three outings.
While they had actually played well on their tour, the Sharks returned to South Africa knowing that their season was very much in the balance and that losing was simply no longer an option.
Three successive wins have followed - the Hurricanes at home, Jaguares away and then Kings at home on Saturday.
The Sharks have catapulted themselves back into playoff contention and, more importantly, over the last few weeks they have shown that they do possess the ability to hurt teams on the attack.
That resurgence in form has, coincidentally or not, coincided with the return to fitness of Pat Lambie.
The playoff race is far from over, though, and four more weeks of fixtures - this weekend and then three after the June international break - will determine which of the Sharks, Lions, Stormers or Bulls miss out on the playoffs.
As things stand now, the Sharks would qualify in the wildcard position allocated to the third best place team in the South African Group, but the Stormers have a game in hand and they will move ahead of the Sharks with victory over the Cheetahs at Newlands this weekend.
Still, Gold is comfortable with where his side is.
"To have got three or four wins in that time and having been
as competitive as we were, especially with the New Zealand teams, is very
pleasing," Gold said of the Sharks' performance over the last six weeks.
"There is a lot of character being shown by this group. We need to
take step up in terms of learning from what we’re doing wrong.
simple options on the field that I don’t think we take and when we do take them
we can put halves of rugby together where, with the players we’ve got, people
find it very difficult to live with us.
"We’re evolving, we’re learning the
whole time and we certainly know we’re not the finished product but we’re
really happy with where we are."
The Sharks have three fixtures left this season - the Lions away and then the Cheetahs and Sunwolves at home.
With the playoff race too tight to call, the Lions trip on July 2 has the potential to be a make or break fixture for the Sharks.
They might have preferred that crucial match to have come in the second or third week back from the international break, but Gold is embracing the challenge.
"I’m excited about that. I would like us to have a tough
game," he said.
"The one thing we know is that it’s fair to say they’re (the Lions) the best team in
the country at the moment.
"We know what the standards are that we need to set
when we go to Johannesburg.
"It’s going to be an unbelievably tough game and the
same level of intensity and speed as the New Zealand teams that we played
against. I’m looking forward to that.
"We’ll have a nice preparation time and I’m
really happy we start with a game like that … no excuses."