Exeter Chiefs coach Rob Baxter admits he's surprised his captain Tom Hayes hasn't been capped by Ireland and has revealed that the Limerick man may yet be called upon by England boss Martin Johnson, writes Paul Dollery.
Limerick-born Hayes, brother of Munster and Ireland prop John, has had an excellent season for Exeter -- their first in the Aviva Premiership -- leading them to an impressive eighth-placed finish, when they were widely tipped to go straight back down.
His contribution was recognised on Tuesday night when he was included at second-row in the Premiership's team of the season. The 30-year-old was also named captain of the team.
"Tommy has done a fantastic job for us as a player and captain over the last two or three years," said Baxter, who brought Hayes to Exeter from Plymouth Albion in 2008.
"He's been rightly rewarded by being picked as captain of the Premiership's team of the season. I am surprised he hasn't played for Ireland yet, but what he's got to do now is follow up the good work of this season by putting in another string of consistently good performances next season.
"International rugby is another step up from the Premiership, but if you can prove yourself to be a top performer over a long period of time then you'll be recognised. That's what gives you the basis to make that step up.
"You need to remember that Tommy also qualifies for England now. I haven't spoken to Tommy about it so I don't know what his international ambitions are. He's aware that playing well for Exeter could lead to international recognition, whether it's with Ireland or England.
"Tommy's priority is to play well for us and it's for other people to decide if they want to see him in an international shirt."