Hayes says collective responsibility is key
Exeter Chiefs stalwart Tom Hayes has challenged his team-mates to step up and assume more responsibility in the wake of Richie Baxter's departure.
The veteran No.8 retired last season after 431 Chiefs appearances in the wake of their swashbuckling 40-39 final-day win over Gloucester, which secured Heineken Cup rugby for the Devon side.
Hayes, 33, has been at the Chiefs since joining from Plymouth Albion in 2008, and skippered the side until this season when he was replaced by Australia international Dean Mumm. The Limerick-born second row says now is the time for the players hitting their prime to take some added responsibility in what is the Chiefs' fourth season in the Premiership.
"The squad changes every season a little bit with some fellows leaving and new players coming in and that always changes the dynamics of it a little bit," said Hayes, who came off the bench to feature in the 38-11 opening-day defeat to Northampton Saints.
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"This season is no exception, but we still have a lot of boys who have been around a while who are the mainstays of the squad.
"There is always an opportunity not so much for players like myself but players in their late 20s to step up and take more responsibility with the likes of Richie moving on.
"The likes of me and Scaysy [James Scaysbrook] have been there in that leadership group for a few years now and we are still doing a lot of the stuff we have been doing for years.
"But it is an opportunity for players outside that experienced group to step up now Richie has moved on."
One group that Hayes identified as having had a noticeable impact at Sandy Park was Exeter Chiefs' England Under-20 contingent, who lifted the IRB Junior World Championship in France in June.
The likes of Sam Hill, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joel Conlon helped England reach the final, where they defeated Wales 23-15. All the points in the final were scored by Chiefs players, with Hill and Nowell both dotting down, while Slade kicked 13 points.
Hayes says he has been impressed with the enthusiasm the group have carried into the Chiefs camp following their summer exploits.
"The younger boys in the squad are bringing in a huge amount of energy through," he said. "The lads who came from back from the England Under-20s over the summer have come in with a lot of confidence from it.
"They are not afraid to step up from the mark and it is a shame a few of them have picked up niggling injuries recently, but they are certainly stepping up to the mark and acquitting themselves well."
Turning his focus to himself, Hayes admits that the additions of players such as Romana Graham and Don Armand have made the squad more competitive than ever. But he feels this can only benefit the Chiefs in the long run, even if it might mean less playing time in the attritional second row.
"I think the second row has been a problematic area for us in the last few years because we have picked up an awful lot of injuries in that area," said Hayes, who himself underwent surgery on his back in April.