Exciting times head for Thomas
Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency
By Mark Stevens
Haydn Thomas says he is looking forward to an exciting new chapter in his Exeter Chiefs career after confirming he will be retiring from playing at the end of the season.
The long-serving scrum-half has played a pivotal role in the rise of the Devon club over the years, amassing 211 appearances and 46 tries, but will now move into a new full-time academy role with the club from next season.
Thomas debuted for the then National League One club back in 2003 in an away fixture at Bedford, before his career took him to the Premiership where he featured for both Gloucester and Bristol.
The Chiefs, however, were always close to the heart of the former Exeter University chemistry graduate, who enjoyed a brief loan spell back in Devon during the 2007/08 season before returning on a permanent basis ahead of the 2009/10 campaign.
It was during that year that the Chiefs overcame Bristol in the inaugural RFU Championship final, winning promotion into English rugby’s top tier for the first time in the club’s history.
An opening day win over former club Gloucester gave Rob Baxter’s newly-promoted charges a dream start, but it was merely the start of an amazing journey for the Chiefs who have since gone on to forge themselves not only as one of the Premiership’s leading lights, but also one of European Rugby’s elite clubs.
“I’ve had 16 years of professional rugby and it’s nice to be able to finish your career on your own terms,” said Thomas, who in 2013 also got to represent England, alongside club-mate Tom Johnson against the Barbarians at Twickenham.
“Over ten of those years have been here with the Chiefs and I’ve received nothing but kindness and encouragement from the Tribe. Thank-you for making it a special place to play.
“What I’ve achieved, especially here at the Chiefs, is something I’m very proud of. To get to do a job that you love every day, working alongside some of your best friends, I don’t think you can’t really ask for any more than that.
“Being part of the Chiefs journey out of the Championship and then into the Premiership, where we’ve really established ourselves as a club has been amazing. That first year especially, when nobody gave us a chance of surviving, it was the togetherness we had as a group and as a club that I will always remember.
“We had a point to prove to so many people, but we did it! Since then, the club has just got stronger and stronger, experienced some huge days and moments, and it’s been great to be part of that whole experience. Personally, I can’t thank the coaches, the support staff and my team-mates enough for what they have done for me.
“I’ve made lifelong friends through the club and although I won’t be playing in the team any more, my affinity with the Chiefs will thankfully continue in my new role working with the academy.”
Underlining the contribution of Thomas over the years, head coach Baxter – who himself got to play with the half-back during his own playing career at the County Ground – said: “Haydn has been a very special person at the club, not just because he was a very good rugby player, but what he brought to the club off the field, particularly in terms of his leadership and his hard-work.
“He’s one of those guys that although he’s never been the captain, he’s been a key leader and has helped to drive the standards and culture that make us what we are. He’s ultra-competitive and has really given his heart and soul to everything.
“What I’m pleased about is that we’re not going to lose him moving forward. The fact he’s going to be part and parcel of our senior academy for the foreseeable future is great news for the club and I’ve no doubt he will continue to contribute in many ways to the club.”