London Wasps wing Tom Varndell believes his side's tough pre-season programme will help them ahead of the new Aviva Premiership season.
Beginning their pre-season schedule earlier than some of their competitors, Varndell admitted that the intensity had been stepped up as Wasps looked to kick on from an entertaining campaign last season where they suffered a dip in form after Christmas.
"Four weeks in - we're one of the first teams back and it's definitely been stepped up this year," said Varndell.
"Pre-season has already been ten times harder than last year, we've gone through a lot of pain with each other as a team. We've set out how it's going to be this year and toughened up and it's working. It's been pretty brutal!"
"We had a drop-off in form after Christmas last year, our defence wasn't good enough.
"We scored a lot of good tries but let in a lot more than we wanted to. It's about building that fitness and going through some pain with each other, bringing in the new players and working hard. Full credit to the fitness team and the coaches who have got us firing.
"There are improvements to be made from last year. Our set-piece came on massively but we need to keep working on that, defensively we need to step up. We cannot have a lead and then lose it as we did in the Double Header against Harlequins last season. It's tightening up things and not playing so much rugby in our own half.
New arrivals at Wasps include the Worcester trio of Matt Mullan, Joe Carlisle and Varndell's former Leicester team-mate Andy Goode, who the flying wing believes will add stability to an improving squad.
"Andy Goode is renowned for his kicking - I played with him at Leicester - and he's a guy who likes to play wide and has a good pass, so I'm excited by the new arrivals in the squad. Hopefully we have all the ingredients for a great squad and a great season," added Varndell.
"We've lost Billy Vunipola to Saracens and needed a replacement - the young 22-year old Fijian lad Nathan Hughes can fill that role. Ed Jackson, Matt Mullan and Joe Carlisle are all good additions, we just need to perform.
Varndell's try scoring partner-in-crime for Wasps, Christian Wade, has been "living the dream" with the British and Irish Lions in Australia on the back of a remarkable season where Wade and Varndell racked up 26 tries between them in the league.
Setting a target for next season, Varndell stated that he hoped continued proficiency going forward could see him back involved within the England set-up after a lengthy absence that had left him frustrated.
"It grates massively. I couldn't watch the games being played in Argentina. It's upsetting - I want to play for my country and I thought I might have had a sniff last year, but sadly didn't. I know what I need to do and it's about me being consistent and pushing on," stated Varndell.
"Stuart [Lancaster] has actually been very good and told me where I am, letting me know that I'm in the loop, which is somewhere I wasn't 18 months to two years ago. I dropped out of favour and wasn't playing my best rugby, but I think last year I bounced back and now hopefully I can be knocking on that door."
by Ben Coles