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Gruelling NSW Waratahs camp in New Zealand a rewarding experience, says Nick Phipps

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It was one of the hardest things they've ever done as rugby players, but the NSW Waratahs players who battled through a physically exhausting three-day camp in New Zealand's Southern Alps say they will be better off for the experience.

Coach Daryl Gibson switched rugby balls for hiking sticks during a pre-season camp organised by Hidden Valleys – a company that specialise in adventure tours.

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The 2016 Super Rugby season was launched at Wet'n'Wild water park in Sydney's west with Wycliff Palu (Waratahs), Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies), Nic Stirzaker (Rebels), Matt Hodgson (Force) and James Slipper (Reds) speaking.

Players were kept in the dark about what was in store and it was this feeling of the unknown which did not sit well for some, who knew deep down they were in line for some physical pain.

A 16-hour trek on Sunday through Mount Peel tested players' endurance as they completed the ascent in different groups. Although some of the forwards struggled at times, they soldiered on through some "dark times".

"You rely on their size on the field but it wasn't probably built for them, but all the boys were really impressed with how some of the bigger boys handled themselves and got through," Nick Phipps said.

That evening, campsites were set up and dinners cooked over a fire. Some opted for tents, others decided to huddle together and sleep under the stars. As for toilet facilities, they came in the form of a hand-dug hole.


"They gave us tarps, but they were pretty useless so we ended up lying down under a tree and staying in our teams," Phipps said. "It was pretty bush, but it was good fun."

Monday then brought about a 25-kilometre bike ride looping around some of the most scenic mountains on the South Island, while the final day saw teams race each other in kayaks, before battling intense rapids for hour upon hour.

So which Waratahs player embraced the outdoors concept the most?

"Jeremy Tilse was nicknamed 'Bear Tilse' early on," Phipps said. "He's just the best. He loved that sort of stuff so he was like a duck to water."

Despite being physically exhausted and with very little left in the tank, Phipps said the squad benefited immensely from a few days out of their comfort zones.

"It was definitely one of the toughest things I've ever done," Phipps said. "I loved every moment of it. There's blokes who are still shaking their head and it was a pretty tough experience but now there's definitely that sense of 'We've done Mount Peel, so running around a footy field for 80 minutes is the least of our worries'. A lot of blokes spoke about how at different stages they were struggling and blokes got them through and how thankful they were for that."

Phipps said Tatafu Polota-Nau, Paddy Ryan, Benn Robinson and Will Skelton had the toughest time but were "so inspirational" for the smaller and fitter guys.

There was no shortage of pictures uploaded to Instagram after the camp. Dave Dennis described it as a "tough challenge but one of life's great experiences", Senio Toleafoa said it was the toughest thing he'd ever done, while Zac Guildford labelled it "three days of hard yakka".

Phipps has implored Gibson to find somewhere "a little bit more exotic" next season but nonetheless Gibson said he was thrilled with how the team overcame numerous obstacles over the course of the camp.

"It was tough," Gibson said. "For a lot of the guys it was out of their comfort zone but they embraced it and I think long term we'll get some really good value out of that."