ACT Brumbies star David Pocock will skip an end-of-season holiday to focus on his recovery from ongoing neck issues after being targeted by illegal breakdown tactics this year.
Pocock conceded his neck was still sore almost a month after being ruled out of the Wallabies' clash against England at Twickenham and admitted he had "some real concerns" about his longevity.
The 30-year-old won his third Rugby Union Players' Association medal for excellence at a function in Sydney on Wednesday, capping a remarkable comeback season after taking a 12-month sabbatical.
His performances were a shining light for the Wallabies, who had their worst season in 60 years. The horror international season has left coach Michael Cheika clinging to his job.
But perhaps the biggest concern for Australian rugby is the health of Pocock, who also won the John Eales Medal as the Wallabies' best player of the year.
Super Rugby and World Rugby officials have refused to crack down on a dangerous neck roll technique used to dislodge Pocock from his position at the breakdown.
It caused significant frustration for the Brumbies, who felt Pocock was being unfairly targeted but their pleas for action fell on deaf ears at SANZAAR.
Pocock is intent on having the best year of his glittering career to help the Wallabies chase World Cup glory in what could be his final season in Australian rugby.
So in a bid to get ready for 2019, Pocock has been doing extra mobility work to ensure he's in peak physical condition next year and the Wallabies will likely manage his workload at the Brumbies.
"It's [my neck] still pretty sore to be honest," Pocock told reporters in Sydney after winning the top RUPA prize.
"I usually go away for December, try to get back to Zimbabwe, but decided this year I want to spend the time here getting my body right for next year. [I] recognise that next year is hopefully my biggest year of rugby, playing the best rugby I've played and physically be able to do that.
"I've got some real concerns in the neck, it's causing me a fair bit of grief. You're concerned about not being able to play, and in the back of your head when you talk to medical professionals they're reminding you about life after rugby.
"That's something I have to manage and be smart with, I don't know what that looks like at the moment."
Wallabies coaches were in Canberra last week to meet with Brumbies officials in the hope of striking a deal to rest Pocock, Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa and Rory Arnold from Super Rugby games next season.
Pocock plays in one of the most physically demanding positions and missed two Tests this year after incidents at the breakdown.
Cheika will be hoping Pocock is injury free to give Australia the best chance of being a contender at the World Cup in Japan. But Cheika first faces a wait to find out of he will still be the coach.
The Rugby Australia board met earlier this week to discuss the Wallabies' dismal results and Cheika's tenure, but delayed a decision about any potential termination.
Pocock took a 12-month sabbatical from Australian rugby last year, taking time away from the game to spend time in Africa doing conservation work.
Asked if it was the hardest year of his Wallabies career, Pocock said: "Stats wise, it probably was. It was tough.
"There was plenty of effort that went into it and I think looking back at the year as players, we hopefully learnt a lot.
"I've really enjoyed being back in Australian rugby and I think personally I've learnt a fair bit. The challenge is to take that into next year.
Pocock said the uncertainty surrounding Cheika was not a distraction, with Wallabies players on leave until the second week of January.
"[Cheika's] someone I've learnt a huge amount off, I've got a lot of respect for. Ultimately there's probably not a huge amount of value getting players to start talking about it, it's for people higher up in the chain.
"It's really out of our hands, but as I said at the John Eales Medal night, I love the guy. I've learnt a huge amount from him. Like everyone else, we'll wait and see what happens this week and move on."
Pocock, who married partner Emma at a low-key ceremony last week, wasn't the only Brumbies winner at the RUPA event.
Folau Faingaa was named the newcomer of the year after a brilliant rookie season and Brumbies skipper Sam Carter won the academic achievement award as he prepares to compete his bachelor of business and commerce.
Faingaa made his Brumbies debut this year and was called into the Wallabies squad after just a handful of Super Rugby games, giving Australian rugby a bright spark in an otherwise tough year.
Carter, who married his partner Maddie last week, has about to finish his degree and joked the award should be for academic persistence given he has been studying on and off for the past 11 years.
Meanwhile, seven players were inducted into the RUPA Centurions Club, an exclusive group consisting of the 59 players who have made over 100 Super Rugby appearances for Australian teams.
Bernard Foley, Mark Gerrard, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Pocock, Nathan Sharpe and Laurie Weeks were presented with their Centurions Club tie on stage by one of last year’s inductees, Stirling Mortlock.
RUPA AWARD WINNERS
Medal For Excellence: David Pocock (Brumbies/Wallabies)
RUPA Newcomer of the Year: Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies/Wallabies)
NRC Players’ Player of the Year: Jordan Petaia (Queensland Country)
People Choice’s Australian Player of the Year: Evania Pelite OAM (Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens) and David Pocock (Wallabies)
Australian men’s sevens Players’ Player: Ben O’Donnell
Australian women’s sevens Players’ Player: Evania Pelite OAM
Academic Achievement Award: Sam Carter (Brumbies)
Community Service Award: Jed Holloway (NSW Waratahs)