SHARKS coach John Plumtree has blamed their poor run in this year's Super 14 in part on an unsettled backline combination.
This after their 24-22 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra, Australia, that left the Sharks without a win after five games in the competition.
Asked to pinpoint what had gone wrong, Plumtree said: "There are a number of different factors. Last year after four rounds of the competition we had played the same 9, 10, 12 combination, that's obviously a crucial combination. You can look at the top sides at the moment, they all have outstanding combinations in those positions, ours has been very disrupted and disjointed.
"We never got our game going. That's not solely the reason, but it's certainly one of the big ones."
Clearly the Sharks have not recovered from the disruption of losing star Argentinian flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez to injury, with replacement No 10 Steve Meyer retiring on the day before the Super 14 kicked off.
England's Andy Goode was drafted in as a late replacement and is only now starting to settle. The situation at scrumhalf also didn't help matters much, with Rory Kockott preferred at No 9 early in the competition before Plumtree turned to utility back Ruan Pienaar.
Adrian Jacobs has also been switching between inside and outside centre, to accommodate first Waylon Murray and later Riaan Swanepoel.
Asked if there were any positives from last weekend's game, Plumtree said: "We're pretty happy with our defence. We were in the game pretty much all the way. We've lost four games by less than four or five points.
"The only hiding was against Crusaders and we were in that game until the last 10 or 12 minutes, so it's just frustrating that we can't win these close games.
"The frustrating thing is that each week we're getting closer but still not winning these close games. If we keep on losing we're not going to make the top four and that was our goal. It's putting pressure on us."
Next up for the Sharks is a trip to New Zealand to face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.