Gloucester Rugby: We'll be strong to the finish, says Big Ben
HIKING across the Brecon Beacons and lugging stretchers around army bases, Gloucester's gruelling pre-season will leave them among the Premiership's fitness elite.
Number eight Ben Morgan winces at the thought of being purposely pushed to breaking point in mid-Wales in July.
This is the same loose-forward that had to wear a gasmask on a treadmill to whip himself into top-flight shape when he swapped Merthyr Tydfil for the Scarlets in 2009.
The 24-year-old is a different animal now – but while he admits he did not relish parts of his second Gloucester pre-season, he knows the Cherry and Whites cannot thrive without it.
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Boss Nigel Davies put his squad through four training sessions a day in the French Alps in early August.
Dursley youth product Morgan believes the full fruit of all that graft will not ripen until the middle of new season.
He explained: "We spent part of pre-season on a lot of military exercises, that took us to the brink and beyond.
"When you pair that up with the high-altitude training camp in Tignes, I think everything brings us to a great starting point for the season.
"There were some really long days, all of it was extremely intense.
"But by doing that, then factoring in rest at the right times, that's left us in great shape.
"We've got some great coaches here, a great fitness team, and the way they've implemented their plans will make us peak in the season.
"We'll be totally ready for the start of the campaign, but then we'll be able to push that on too.
"The fittest teams are the teams that win the tightest matches, it's no secret.
"We were strong in that department last year, but I think we're even better off this time around.
"We want to be the players that just keep going and going, the ones who pick ourselves off the ground with two minutes to go, and make that match-saving tackle."
Rugby director Davies purposely picked two of Europe's most intimidating rugby cauldrons for Gloucester's away warm-up fixtures.
Gloucester were dispatched 42-17 at reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon, before losing out 28-17 at Munster.
When the Cherry and Whites return to Thomond Park for Heineken Cup action in October, Morgan believes their performance will be unrecogniseable from last month's loss.
He continued: "I think we've made some really good signings this year, everyone has had chances over pre-season, and everyone has really stood up well.
"We went to two big rugby towns in pre-season, two places a bit like Gloucester really.
"And I think that will stand us in great stead for the challenges ahead.
"The Heineken Cup is massive for us this season.
"Clearly the league is where we have to perform right from the word go.
"But I think we have learned a great deal from our trips to Toulon and Munster.
"Toulon came right after our Tignes trip, and that was a big test of our fitness, coming down from altitude to sea-level.
"I think we learned a lot about the level required to be successful in Europe out there.
"The plan is to produce something entirely different when we return to Munster in October for the Heineken Cup group match.
"We've got to raise the level from pre-season generally now.
"The league starts and we've got to be ready to hit our stride from the outset.
"Do that, and hopefully we can start as we mean to go on now."