A year is a long time in rugby but the pain of NSW's embarrassing 2017 season is firmly tethered to their resurgent 2018 campaign, and upcoming finals appearance.
So said Waratahs prop Tom Robertson on Wednesday, ahead of the Waratahs’ last-round clash with the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts can finish as high as second on the ladder with victory over their southern rivals; a far cry from the depths reached by the Waratahs one year ago.
In their last game of the 2017 season, the Waratahs crashed to a 40-11 loss to the Force in Perth. It was the Tahs’ fourth-straight game where they conceded more than 40 points, and saw them end the season with only four wins and in third-last place.
One year later and the Waratahs are powering into the finals in strong form, and vastly improved fitness is a big factor, said Robertson.
“Last year I would agree, we were pretty fatigued and a bit tired after 20 games or whatever it was, during the year,” the loosehead prop said.
“There is always improvement to make but I can definitely notice it, when I am on the field playing. Last year I was a bit fatigued. But I feel like I am fresher and getting more involvements in the game.
“Just in terms of me, I did a 1.2km at the end of 2016 and I did it in 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Whereas this year I did it in 5 minutes and three seconds. So I have taken 37 seconds off a 1.2 time. That speaks for itself I think.”
Better recovery has helped but the big change was a major focus on building up fitness and strength from the sub-par levels last year. That began in the Waratahs’ pre-season and for the returning Wallabies troops, carried straight through the Christmas holidays, Robertson said.
“We certainly came back at a higher level than we did previously,” he said.
“You get your four weeks off and you tend to eat and drink a lot, and not do too much else.
“But this year we set ourselves to come back and better ourselves, so there was a big focus. They would give us our sessions and we had to do them. And then obviously when we came in here we got flogged pretty hard.”
The memory of a humbling Super Rugby season provided all the fuel needed to do the hard work.
“We were all disappointed with how last year went, so it was a big group effort to not let anything like that happen again,” Robertson said.
“It’s good now we know what we need to do to not let that happen again. It definitely was motivation.”
Robertson said the Waratahs would be looking to finish the regular season strongly by taking down the Brumbies, although he conceded it would be no easy task.
The in-form Brumbies would be a perfect last opponent, Robertson said.
“You look at their form in the last two or three weeks, they’ve been good,” he said.
“If we had the Sunwolves game the last week before the finals, it probably wouldn’t have been much of an indication but having a team like the Brumbies will be a really good test for us.”
Robertson joked he’d been struggling with his now famous cauliflower ear, which he has had drained “about 20 times now”.
“Pretty much three or four times a week. Either Mum or the doctor comes and drains it. Then I have tried magnets, blue tack, a paper clip, yeah a lot of stuff,” the prop said.
"It hurts, it hurts, if you are in a maul or tackling on the left side, it hurts, I will say that. But that’s at training. When you are playing in front of 18,000 like at the weekend, you have bigger things to worry about. And hopefully it will be the same at the weekend.”
The Waratahs take on the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium on Saturday July 14, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.