Exeter’s Hayes “privileged” to create history
Exeter Chiefs skipper Tom Hayes says he and his team-mates feel "privileged" to be those creating yet more milestones in the club’s history.
Having helped guide the club out of the Championship and into the Aviva Premiership for the first time ever in 2010, Exeter’s on-field leader has again be at the forefront of matters as the Devonians took on life in English rugby’s top flight.
At Sixways on Saturday, a dramatic conclusion to the contest saw the Chiefs battle back from 26-19 down with just a minute remaining to triumph 31-26 and claim a memorable victory.
Exeter’s win – their 12th in the Premiership this season – not only saw Rob Baxter’s side leapfrog Northampton Saints into fourth place in the table, but it guaranteed the Chiefs would be competing amongst European rugby’s elite next season in the Heineken Cup.
In just two seasons that is a remarkable feat, one not lost on their Irish skipper, who said: "It’s a great achievement for the club. Coming from playing in front of a couple of hundred people when we were away in the Championship to now having this many people follow us here to Sixways and also to France last week, it just shows what massive momentum the club have right now and how great a feeling there is around the club."
With just two scheduled Premiership fixtures remaining – this Sunday against Northampton Saints, then an away date at Saracens on May 5 – the Chiefs know a place in the end of season play-offs remains a distinct possibility after this latest success against the Warriors.
Hayes insists the positivity around the club and the squad itself is what makes life at Sandy Park so special right now and he hopes that feeling will continue for a long time yet.
"Right now we are playing at a level of rugby that an awful lot of people would love to play at and haven’t had the opportunity to play in," he added. "We have that opportunity and we are privileged to be here. That said, we deserve to be here, so we are going to make the most of it.
"Today was one hell of a game and it’s a brilliant feeling, but there is still something there for us to build on. We’re happy with the momentum we’ve created, but we won’t get too carried away.
"We lost a game in the last minute in Paris last week and we said we wouldn’t get too downbeat about it, but for the same token we can’t get too carried away about winning an 80 minute game of rugby in the last minute.
"Next week it’s going to be a huge game, there is no doubt about that. Northampton dictated the game against us up at their place earlier in the season and they didn’t get into Heineken Cup final for no reason, so we have our work cut out. As always, we’ll stay positive and see what comes about."
Certainly the never-say-die attitude of the Chiefs has seen them prosper on a number of occasions this season and this latest success story at Worcester was a prime example of that.
"We had to be relentless because there was a period there when the whole momentum of the game swung against us," admitted Hayes. "That said, we never dropped our heads. We just had to try and keep ourselves in the game, get the ball, and try and turn the pressure back round on them.
"It took a while, a few subs came on, we had the boys back out of the sin-bin and we managed to get the ball back, it was then that we were able to keep the pressure on and in the end we managed to turn that into a few points for us."