Hayes just enjoying the ride in Europe
Exeter Chiefs continue their Heineken Cup debut season this week, but skipper Tom Hayes insists it is too early to think about qualifying again next term.
The Chiefs take on Scarlets this weekend in the first of back-to-back European Cup fixtures against the Welsh RaboDirect Pro 12 side.
In-form Exeter have won their last five games in all competitions, including three in the Aviva Premiership to leave them just five points adrift of top spot. But Hayes says it is still too early to consider a second season in the Heineken Cup.
"There is an awful lot of rugby to be played yet, so it is not something that we are talking about," he said. "People have started to ask us about it and have talked about league table positions already.
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"But it is so close, there is genuinely no point looking at it. Even this stage last year, we went from third down to ninth and back up to six or seventh in the space of four weeks. If anything, it is probably closer this year than last season.
"We will leave worrying about league position for later on and concentrate on building some momentum to kick on with towards the end of the season."
With the league being so tight, the Chiefs may regret failing to get the bonus-point fourth try during their 30-23 win over Wasps at the weekend. The sides were level at the break but a strong second-half display from the Chiefs saw them clear.
Hayes said: "We were certainly chasing the bonus point by the end. It was a tough first half. They scored a try that was just one of those freak things, really.
"The opportunity presented itself and they took it. We set out to control the momentum of the half a lot more in the second half and have a go and get them on the back foot, so they would have to worry a little bit more about us.
"We played with a bit more direction and got there. It was maybe a little disappointing not to get the bonus point by the end, but they are tough games in the Premiership and that is what happens."
Hayes and his side are continuing to learn and develop their game in their third season in the Premiership approaches its midpoint.
Their first campaign in Europe's premier club rugby competition has been even more challenging to date. A narrow defeat in their debut to Leinster was followed by a heavier loss at home to Clermont Auvergne. However, Hayes says his side can build upon the losing bonus point they have gathered so far. "We have to put the other games to bed," he said. "We did manage to get a bonus point out of one of them and that gives us something to build on.
"It is our first year in the Heineken Cup and we always knew it was going to be tough. It is a real learning experience because you step up from the Championship to the Premiership and you know you are up with the cream of the crop from England.
"But then you get into the Heineken Cup and it is the best of Europe – it really is another step up. It is an unforgiving place, if you are not playing at the top of your game.
"It is something we are still looking forward to. They are the challenges you have to face up to. When you sit back you ask yourself where you would rather be. I don't think anyone would say they would rather not be in the Heineken Cup. We want to be there and learn what it takes to be good in that competition."
Leicester back-row forward Brett Deacon has been suspended by the Tigers for seven days following his red card against Bath last weekend.
Deacon was one of three players – alongside Bath duo Francois Louw and Matt Banahan – dismissed in five minutes of mayhem at Welford Road, where Leicester gained a 17-12 Premiership win.
Louw was the first to receive his marching orders for use of an elbow. Banahan saw red for a high tackle on Anthony Allen, with Deacon also sent off after that incident.