IN A previous incarnation, the Sharks were known as the Banana Boys and in recent seasons they have slipped on a few banana skins in both Super 15 and Currie Cup matches.

This year, the Sharks rightly start the Super 15 as one of the favourites after their heroic run to the final last year, but in order to go one better they have to avoid losing "soft" games.

That is according to assistant coach Grant Bashford, who pinpointed last year’s loss to the Lions as a game that ultimately cost them a home play-off berth. The consequence of that defeat was a horror travel schedule from Durban to Brisbane, then to Cape Town and lastly to Hamilton in New Zealand for the final.

It was murderous and diminished their chances of winning the title to almost zero by the time they met the Chiefs in the final.

"That Lions game came the week before our bye; we’d had a long run without a break and it was a huge match because we’d get four points for the bye, which made it a potential nine-point game," Bashford said of last year’s round-11 clash against the Joburgers. Had they won, the Sharks would have finished fourth in the standings instead of sixth.

"Unfortunately we let it slip," Bashford said. "That’s where we’ve been vulnerable in the past — when we’ve had a gun to our head, we’ve performed — but other games where everyone is writing us up to win, we haven’t. Those are issues we’ve been addressing."

The Sharks face their first potential banana skin in week one of this season’s competition when they take on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

The Free Staters usually make life uncomfortable for the Sharks, but as one of the favourites they simply have to find a way to secure a win on the road.

"For us, it’s all about improving our consistency," Bashford said. "It’s no good starting well and finishing badly or the other way around. You have to be in the race the whole way through, performing week in and week out.

"But it’s a long, hard tournament. We’ve been to the business end before and to get there you need luck," he said.

"You can’t afford injuries, especially lots of injuries in the same position. You need the bounce of the ball to go your way and you need to play well."