The Chiefs picked up their fifth away win of the season at Gloucester last weekend with Aly Muldowney’s last-gasp try earning a 28-27 success in their first ever victory at Kingsholm.
Northampton currently stand in the final semi-final place after their success over Wasps, but with the Saints travelling to Sandy Park in the penultimate round of the season, Exeter’s play-off destiny is in their own hands.
However despite their strong position, Hayes is adamant the Chiefs cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball ahead of Saturday’s home clash with London Irish.
“The semi-finals are obviously in the back of our minds, but we can’t afford to get that far ahead of ourselves,” he said.
“Harlequins and Saracens have been setting the pace all season and Leicester and Northampton have lots of experience of reaching the play-offs so it’s going to be very hard to overtake them.
“We’re obviously pretty happy with where we are in the table but our only target this season has been to try to improve on our result from last season in every game.
“On the whole we’ve done well in that sense and there have only been a couple of times where we haven’t done it.
“But we have to keep that form up. We’ve got a tough game against London Irish next, who we haven’t beaten yet so that has to be our focus.
“There is a lot of rugby before that Northampton game, so if we start thinking about that one, that’s where we will fall down.”
While Exeter remain dark horses to make the play-offs, an all-important top six place looks eminently achievable having opened up a nine point gap back to Sale in seventh.
And Hayes is confident that if the Chiefs can continue their rise up the leagues, it is only a matter of time before more players from the South West begin to get recognition on the bigger stage.
“It’s probably fair to say at the moment that one of our big strengths is that we have a very good team ethic,” he added.
“There may be a few guys who haven’t got the credit they deserve just yet, but if you are there fighting for the top spots, that is when you start getting that recognition.
“If the club can maintain this form and be challenging, then people will take notice of the guys coming through.
“But we have to be honest, what we have achieved so far this season is beyond most people’s expectations and we know that it’s still very tight.
“It would be great to qualify for the Heineken Cup and certainly something new for us, but we can’t think about that yet.”
If you buy a ticket for this year’s Aviva Premiership Final on 26 May you will receive a free rugby shirt. Go to www.premiershiprugby.com/freeshirt to buy yours.
© Sportsbeat 2012
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