Baxter pays tribute to Hayes
Exeter boss Rob Baxter has no doubt that former Chiefs captain Tom Hayes will leave a lasting legacy at the Aviva Premiership club.
Hayes, who has retired with immediate effect because of a back injury, was a driving force behind Chiefs' rise from English rugby's second-tier Championship to playing Heineken Cup rugby.
The 33-year-old's announcement that he is stepping down comes with Exeter holding a Premiership title play-off position and having made an impressive start to their European campaign in a group that includes Heineken Cup holders Toulon.
Irishman Hayes joined Exeter from Plymouth, going on to make more than 130 appearances and establishing himself as a catalyst figure at Sandy Park.
"Tom has been a big part of what we've done. He has played a lot of game minutes at a very crucial time and he's led us in some of the biggest games the club has ever played," Baxter said.
"He epitomises a lot of what we are about here at the club. He is hardworking, he gets on with things without too much fuss and he will always dig deep when you need him most.
"What I've liked about working with Tom is that he has a really good understanding of the game and good tactical knowledge of what is going on out there.
"He is level-headed and doesn't let one good or one bad result influence things too much, he just turns up each day and gets on with it.
"Over the years we've had a good group of players like Tom who play 80 minutes at the weekend but then they are back in first thing on Monday for training and are raring to go again.
"Tom has been a big part of our journey out of the Championship and then into the Premiership.
"He has been there every step of the way, both as a player and as a captain, so obviously him leaving like this is a big loss for us.
"In years to come people will look back at this period and he will be one of those guys that will go down in history as being part of the team that not only helped us get out of the Championship and into the Premiership, but then got us into the Amlin and the Heineken Cups and really helped to establish us as a club."
Limerick-born Hayes says Exeter retaining Premiership status in their first season out of the Championship - they finished an impressive eighth - was his highlight.
"I think staying up in the Premiership that first year and how we went about our business is probably the biggest highlight for me," Hayes said.
"Going up to the Premiership nobody gave us much of a chance, but inwardly we backed ourselves with a group of players, many of whom had come through the Championship that previous year, and we ended up finishing eighth.
"Was that a bigger achievement than promotion? I tend to think so because it was a real collective effort which we've since built on and just got stronger with.
"It has been a great journey for me but this is where I get off.
"Of course it is sad to be going out like this and I am obviously disappointed to be leaving behind the boys that I've been playing with over the last few years.
"Rugby has been my life for a long, long time now, but sometimes you have to listen to your body and what the medical people are telling you.
"For me, it's been a privilege and an honour to be part of what we've done here at Exeter in the last few years. To be captain for a large part of that has been a great feeling and I consider myself very lucky to have gone through what I have."