Hayes set for new season
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs skipper Tom Hayes insists he and team-mates will be going "flat-out" in their build-up to the new 2012/13 season with the hard work starting in earnest this Saturday when they welcome Connacht to Sandy Park in their first pre-season fixture (2pm).
In a repeat of last season's fixture between the two clubs, one in which the Chiefs won 47-10 at Dubarry Park, Hayes is ready to welcome his fellow countrymen to Devon for the first time as the countdown to the new campaign reaches its final stretch.
Saturday's encounter represents the first of three warm-up tests for Rob Baxter's side, who follow up the Connacht clash with a home game against Cornish Pirates (August 18) before travelling to Glasgow (August 23).
Hayes knows, however, that the Chiefs must use the three fixtures as the foundation from which to build their seasonal game plan.
"We'll be going flat-out over the three games because we have a point to prove," said the 32-year-old forward. "It's an open field to play with for everyone to start with, but there's a good atmosphere around the place and if the rugby goes well, I think it will stand us in good stead for the season ahead."
With Baxter having added eight new faces to his squad over the summer - two of them in the second row with the arrivals of Dean Mumm and Damian Welch - Hayes knows the battle for a starting spot is sure to be intense, not just in his position, but right across the board.
"That's part of where we are," he added. "The strength of our squad over the last couple of years is what has helped us do what we have.
"It's not just about driving fellas on to try to take a position, but the quality of your training by having quality players across the board drives up the standard and makes the team better prepared for when they take the field, whoever is in the team."
Certainly the Chiefs have been driving each other on during a gruelling pre-season programme, which has seen them train at various different locations around the region and with the likes of the Royal Marines and Surf Life Saving GB.
That programme, though, is heading towards the finish line and it will be on-field action which will now take centre stage for the Chiefs.
"There are benefits to pre-season, it's all done for a reason," said Hayes. "However, playing rugby is what it's all about and what everyone wants to do. Once we get back into preparing for matches properly it will add a bit of excitement around the place."
Indeed, the squad have mixed the graft of work in the club's gymnasium and training paddock to working on set-pieces and patterns ahead of this weekend's first outing.
“It’s just been about preparing so far and it has gone well,” said Hayes. “We have brought a fair few senior guys into the squad this summer so a big focus has been on getting through our team patterns and team philosophies, making sure everybody is comfortable with what we are doing.
“We haven’t focused massively on the rugby yet. More of the focus of what we want to get out of the season will probably happen during the next block of pre-season games as we start looking forward to the match side of things and what our goals are going to be. So far it has been about getting our fitness and strength and conditioning done and getting our skills right.”