Captain Hayes recalls battle in Bristol

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Exeter Chiefs captain Tom Hayes is presented with the inaugural RFU Championship Play-Off trophy following his side's 29-10 win over Bristol. Picture: Getty Images

By Neale Harvey

Irish lock Tommy Hayes led Exeter into battle at the Memorial Stadium. Here, he talks to the Rugby Paper's Neale Harvey about that momentous night for the Chiefs.

“I remember the atmosphere surrounding those play-off games as much as anything.

“It was my second season at Exeter and having slipped up the previous season, we knew we had to get down to business. It was a shoot-out to get into the Premiership and that brought its own tension, but you can either let that intimidate you or you can embrace it – and we chose the latter.

“The big driver for us, and what I tried to impose on the lads, was what it meant to the club. I was trying to tap into the club’s history as much as possible and use that as a positive.

“Exeter had started to be considered as always the bridesmaids because in the few years leading up to that 2009/10 season we’d been a top two team without being able to overcome the Premiership club-in-waiting, whether it be Harlequins, Northampton or Leeds.

“Exeter had always been up there but never got over the line, but this time we felt we had a good new group and we didn’t saddle ourselves with the shortcomings of previous seasons, although I still wanted us to tap into the 139-year history of where Exeter had come from.

“Tony Rowe, our chairman, had a lock-up near the old County Ground and I found all these old photos in there.

“I said, ‘Right, these shouldn’t be left down here, the boys need to see this long history,’ so we put the pictures up at Sandy Park and that helped bring the whole lot together. We knew we were on the brink of taking that next step and that gave us brilliant inspiration.

“There’d been nothing between ourselves and Bristol during the regular season and we won the first leg of the final 9-6, but going into that second game we were as confident as we could be. Pressure was mentioned, but pressure’s what you make of it and we wanted to perform.

“The plan came together, Steeno kicked his goals and it was a brilliant achievement by a special group of fellas I was proud to lead, and who continued to grow as a group in the Premiership.

“Nobody was sure Exeter could win a Premiership, but we always knew there was big growth in the club.

“The only disappointment for me was having to step away through injury three years later and miss out on a few things, but while I was in the thick of it, it was hugely enjoyable.

“Ten years on, Rob Baxter and Ali Hepher are still there leading a brilliant coaching set-up and Tony will want to hold on to them for as long as he possibly can. They’re constantly talking about improvement so they’ll keep the players invigorated and achieve more success.”

Tom Hayes catches this line-out during the second leg of the Championship Play-Off Final against Bristol. Picture: Getty Images

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