Exeter Chiefs captain Tom Hayes expects his team to get even better this season, despite opening the Aviva Premiership campaign with a six-try victory over Sale Sharks.
The Chiefs have won the first match in each of their three seasons in the top flight.
However, Saturday’s performance against the Sharks, and the 43-6 win that followed, was undoubtedly the most emphatic.
It was a success built on hard work, quality and a respect for the opposition, according to Hayes.
He said: “We had to go right at them from minute one and did not give them a chance to get comfortable in the game.
“We tried to unsettle every little bit of possession to make them have to operate under pressure because we know the quality they have and what they could do if we made things easier for them.
“It was certainly a good start to the season for us and we have an awful lot of positives to build on.”
The end result was all the more remarkable considering the closeness of the scores at half-time. The Chiefs were leading Sale by just 11 points.
However, an up-tempo start to the second half and a quick try from lock Aly Muldowney proved decisive.
“We knew going in at half-time that we were a few points ahead,” said Hayes. “The first score of the second half was going to have a huge impact, just because of the psychological side of it.
“It was either going to close the score down to a one-score game or it would open up a big gap for us. Thankfully it was the latter and that was then a fairly comfortable cushion with a long way to go in the game.
“It took the pressure off and was something that freed us up to throw the shackles off and really go for it.”
Hayes still expects the Chiefs to make further improvements as they rise to the demands of a third season in the Premiership and a campaign in the Heineken Cup.
He said: “We are still not the finished article by any means but we are making positive steps in that direction. If we can do that while keeping our intensity up, I think we can go well and should be happy with where we get.
“You have to step up to the intensity of high-level rugby and that involves a lot of work rate and a good attitude. That is constant, but on the other side we have been trying to up our accuracy and quality as a rugby team in terms of decision-making and skills-wise as well.”
A winning start to the season is fast becoming an Exeter Chiefs’ hallmark. Hayes said: “It has been a good thing for us over the last couple of years. It was no secret that we were expected to be relegated straight away in the first season. Then, it was going to be the second season syndrome last year.
“The positive thing was that we got ourselves away from relegation and took the overall pressure of the season off us after the first two or three months of the season. Our start this season is certainly a positive as well, but it is not all about the start.
“We have to be mature as well and hit the right speed at the right time. For now, we’re not going to be looking beyond the next game. We’ll certainly enjoy what was a great result for us against Sale and move forward for next week.”
A trip to Franklin’s Gardens is next on Chiefs’ calendar. The home of Northampton Saints is one of the few places left for the Chiefs to conquer. Saints have beaten the Chiefs at home in each of the past two seasons.
But Hayes said: “Northampton are a quality team, they have been in the play-offs for a couple of years now. They have shown their quality over a number of games against us and it is another big challenge for us.
“These are the challenges that we have always tried to face up to in the Premiership. It is not the first time we will have been considered the underdogs, but so be it. We will deal with it all in the most positive manner we can and see what we can get from the game.”