Wales hooker Huw Bennett is relishing life back with his international teammates, even though it means putting himself through the pain barrier at their gruelling pre-2012 RBS Six Nations training camp in Gdansk Poland, this week.
Bennett, who will win his 50th cap the next time he pulls on the red jersey, was said to have 'come of age' on the national scene at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last autumn.
The Ospreys hooker admits many of his dreams came true when he was handed the hooking reigns at RWC after the enforced absence of pre-tournament skipper Matthew Rees.
He took his opportunity with both hands last September and he is the man in possession of the jersey after retaining it for Wales' December fixture against Australia at the Millennium Stadium, but he knows he faces stiff opposition this Six Nations from both Rees and his Scarlets colleague Ken Owens.
"It's good to be back with the international boys and we are all relishing putting in the hard work here in Poland," said Bennett. "Myself, Ken and Matthew have a healthy rivalry, we are good friends and they are both great players.
"There is no doubting Matthew is one of the leaders in this squad and respected by everyone. His absence meant I got my chance at the World Cup, Ken also made his international debut and Lloyd Burns played a vital role as well. I was given the starting berth and it was up to me to prove I deserved it.
"I welcomed the challenge and the opportunity and I think I did okay. The team certainly reached the heights in terms of getting through to that semi-final but we also feel we have unfinished business and we have more to offer.
"Now with Matthew back in the squad we are pushing each other and neither of us want to give up that starting jersey.
"It's great to be back with Wales. The team spirit and camaraderie we built at RWC was amazing and we have recaptured that instantly here in Poland.
"We are all working extremely hard and are desperate to repeat our RWC form at the Six Nations, but we know it will be tough.
"It's great to be back amongst the coaches and the players with Wales. Everyone is so professional and it's such an excellent working environment that I think it brings out the best in everyone. It certainly does for me."
Bennett, who endured two 10-day stints in Spala, Poland, before the Rugby World Cup, is a keen advocate of the positive affects the training camps have on the players.
The camps in Spala, and the current one in Gdansk, offer the players cryotherapy treatment, which improves recovery times and helps them train harder and more often in a given day, but he says there is much more to them than that.
"One of the key things about being out here in Poland is that we are able to concentrate on our rugby preparations 24 hours a day," said Bennett.
"There are no distractions out here and, personally, I know that going to Spala last year made a definite positive impact on me physically and there is also a psychological factor.
"Normally, no matter how much work you put into a pre-season, that first game back leaves you blowing, but that just didn't happen to me when we played England at the end of last summer and I put that down to the training camps and the cryotherapy.
"We spent the best part of a month in Spala and it was pre-season training, but Gdansk has been very different.
"There's no magic wand, the 'cryo' would be no good without the hard work either side of it. We won't know if what we have done here has had an effect until we play, but success at international level is about very small margins and we know we are giving ourselves the best chance by working hard."
Bennett is looking forward to the RWC quarter-final rematch against Ireland a week on Sunday, but he believes the match in New Zealand will have little bearing on the outcome in Dublin.
"We had a lot of praise from the world cup and we were on a big high when we got back, our challenge now is to maintain that momentum," he said.
" Things came together for us, we got some good results and got further than people expected but now we need to keep that going.
"Ireland will obviously be looking for revenge, we got the upper hand in New Zeland, but we know you can't judge yourself on previous matches you have to look forward and we will be ready for them next week."
Finally Bennett would like to take the opportunity to send the squad's best wishes to Scarlets prop Rhys Thomas, who was taken ill on Thursday, and his family:
"Rhys is a former Wales colleague and we were all shocked when we heard the news that he had been taken ill yesterday.
"I know the whole squad are thinking of him and his family at the moment and we would like to wish him a speedy recovery."
Fans can still purchase tickets, in limited supply, for two of Wales' home 2012 RBS 6 Nations matches at the Millennium Stadium - against Scotland on Saturday, 12 February and against Italy on Saturday, 10 March - online at www.wru.co.uk/tickets or by calling the ticket hotlines 08442 777 888 or 02920 230130.
The Welsh Rugby Union is forming a new Youth Board with a brief to help keep more young people involved in the game during their late teenage years and beyond. The first task of the fifteen strong Board will be to analyse and consider the issues which lead to a number of youngsters drifting away from the sport between the ages of 16 and 21. To apply visit www.wru.wales/youthboard
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WRU Consultant Head of Physical Performance Paul Stridgeon praises the Physical Performance department for their work and dedication as he addresses the media ahead of Wales' Pool A clash against Australia
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