A SEVEN-YEAR apprenticeship with the Waratahs has finally paid off for Jeremy Tilse.
Tilse has won the loose-head position from Wallaby prop Benn Robinson and will be making his first career start for the Waratahs in their season-opener against the Reds on Saturday.
Can the Tahs pip the mighty Reds?
Lealiifano diagnosed with cancer
Brumbies survive after downing Force
Where has Quade been?
Red hot Tahs thrash Sunwolves
All Blacks begin new era with Welsh win
Waratahs make huge statement
Bulls triumph over Stormers in arm wrestle at Loftus Versfeld.
Can the Tahs pip the mighty Reds?
If the Waratahs win this weekend, the Reds will need to take a good, long look at themselves and all their myth-building.
''It's been a good pre-season and for me it's been a long pre-season, seven years or so, but I'm looking forward to it,'' the Hunter-raised Sydney Uni prop said.
''I wasn't so much surprised, I've been putting in a bit of work so I think it's all coming together … I've always trained well, I think it's just a different environment. Everyone's performing well and everyone's got their chance to put their best foot forward.''
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika elevated Tilse to the front row alongside Wallabies regulars Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu, leaving Robinson on the forward-heavy bench. He insisted the selection bombshell was all about recognising Tilse's hard work and had little to do with Robinson's fitness or form.
''It's not a bad form issue, [Robinson's] only played 50 minutes of a trial match,'' Cheika said.
''I suppose when you look at a player you've got to look at what he can do, what his potential is, what he is doing and maybe what he's done in the past from an experience point of view. I reckon that Tilse has really earnt that and I think Benn is going to have a big part to play in the game as well. So I wouldn't be hanging anyone out to dry just yet.''
It is clear the Waratahs are expecting a tough physical confrontation. For all the talk of Israel Folau's impact at fullback and the Reds' ''X-factor'' backs, Cheika is deploying all the grunt available to him, including Robinson, prop Paddy Ryan, hooker John Ulugia, blindside Mitchell Chapman and No.8 Lopeti Timani.
''They've obviously got a lot of X-factor players who can make something out of nothing and so keeping them under pressure is important and we've got to make sure we can work hard,'' he said.
''[We have to] work hard to get off the ground and get back into the line to make sure that they can't use those threats.''
Young winger Tom Kingston was another beneficiary of Cheika's ''clean slate'' policy, being selected to start in combination with debutant fullback Israel Folau and Test winger Drew Mitchell.
Kingston worked well in combination with Folau during trial matches and was selected for pure pace and work rate off the ball, Cheika said.
''The three of them together … allows me to have maybe one out-and-out flyer who can have a go for the line, pin his ears back every time he gets the ball; one who maybe has the experience to play in and out of both situations, can play at fullback as well as the wing … and then [Folau] is a very dangerous player with the ball and a very good defensive player,'' he said.
''Any breaks - and we know Queensland will make something because we know they're very dangerous - we want to be able to manage it out in the back field even when they do get through our front line.''
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Tom Kingston, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Carter, Drew Mitchell, Bernard Foley, Brendan McKibbin, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis (c), Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Jeremy Tilse. Reserves: John Ulugia, Benn Robinson, Mitchell Chapman, Lopeti Timani, David Hickey, Grayson Hart, Ben Volavola.