The atmosphere in the camp is good and has been all week. A sense of anticipation, probably a bit apprehensive. Lads have been away for a few months with Heineken Cup but now that we're back together as a group for the Six Nations, the mood is different. First you have the squad being announced and then the team is announced and there's that anticipation, and a good buzz, a buzz that starts every time at this time of year.
After four years with the national side and travels all over Europe with Munster how does playing Heineken Cup rugby compare with international fare?
It's the same and it's different if that makes sense. There's the pressure of playing Heineken Cup, it's big stuff. But international rugby is still the top level you could play at. A full international in Paris is a huge game. Heineken Cup rugby is great and playing those games in France, playing against French clubs. gives you great experience and a taste for it, Still an international in Paris is the ultimate. It's hard to compare anything with it.
With most of the squad having come off Heineken Cup duty it might be expected that there would be fall-out from that competition, given the disappointment of the Ulster and Leinster contingent. But if there is Hayes is not aware of it.
No, not really, I wouldn't think there's much carry-over from the Heineken Cup. They're two separate things entirely. You've to leave all that stuff behind. This is a different competition, different squad, everything is different so you just have to focus on what's ahead. This is a new competition that's just starting so you start afresh and take it from there.
"When we join up here, there's no animosity between us no matter what province we're from. Especially after the World Cup. We spent so much time together, we all got to know each other really well. On top of that there was a lot of training camps in the lead up to the World Cup and you really get to know fellas an awful lot better. So I'd say that everyone definitely gets on really well."
And when it comes to team announcement and say a Leinster or an Ulster player gets in ahead of one of your own. Does it impact?
Ah no not really says Hayes. When you get to this level it's different. This is Ireland. When the team is being announced it's your own name you listen for. You listen for your own name and once you hear that it's a big relief. You obviously hear your own name and sometimes mightn't hear the rest. At that time, hearing your own name is the most important part of that day. After that you'll chat those maybe who haven't made the team although they're normally the ones who'll come up yo you and say well done.
And the man who wins his 40th cap on Saturday remembers the first one like it was yesterday.
It was against Scotland, almost exactly four years ago. There were five of us on the day, Shane Horgan, Stringer, Rog (Ronan O'Gara) and Simon (Easterby), and ah yeh, he beams, it's only like yesterday. I remember it clearly.
"It's still done almost the same way now as then, in the morning at the team announcement. I rang home and told my mother and father but that was after we'd been training but I'd say they knew anyway, probably from the radio or something.
And 38 caps later Hayes still feels the same apprehension before the team is announced. Always. Just the same. Don't ever take it for granted. When you walk into the room you can almost feel the anticipationan in the air, fellas wondering who's in, who's not. It's different to any other morning, any other meeting.
Hayes and his team-mates re-assembled at the City West Hotel on Sunday night last after two days at home and the man from Cappamore spent the week splitting his time mainly between the hotel gym and Naas RFC just up the road where the squad conducted their training sessions. Now as the time to kick-off gets ever closer, the preparation almost complete, focus narrows on the task ahead.
It's France away first off. It's a hard start to the tournament. It's what we have to do. We're just going to look at it positively and take it from there. I don't think we carry any baggage from Melbourne. That was a bad day They ran up a big score in the first half and we were never going to pull em back but we played a lot better in the second half scored a few tries. We can take something from that.
I think on Saturday a lot will be decided up front. In my case there is an individual battle in it obviously because it's one on one, you're stuck together like. But you can't do it on your own, it is a unit job. The whole pack has to work together to come out on top.
And speaking of that pack, it will contain the new captain, Hayes' Munster team-mate Paul O'Connell. The question of his appointment bringing a huge grin to the big man's face.
Losing a guy of the calibre of O'Driscoll obviously is a loss but you just have to get on with it. In this game there are injuries all the time. You'll never have everybody. Gordon (Darcy) has been playing really well for Leinster. I watched a few of those games and he's filled in for Drico in their last few Heineken Cup matches and he's been the real form player so I think he'll fill in no bother. He'll do a good job.
Hayes will spend the night before the game in a Paris hotel and admits that he has no set routine on the night before, or the day of the match.
You have a lot of your time planned out for you anyway with meetings, team-runs and whatever so you just work around those. I might go for a stroll in the evening and enjoy running into fans. Helps take your mind off the game. I'd get a bit nervous the night before or maybe on the morning of the game, but not too bad. Then when you're going to the ground you see the crowds and realise its game-time. That's a good feeling.
The question of who he's rooming with is answered laughingly with a simple Donncha. And immediately you're aware that time hasn't hung heavy on the genial Hayes this particular week. It's good to have someone like him, there's a bit of crack anyway. The time passes when he's there. He'll crack jokes and that helps to ease any tension that might be there. It wouldn't be good to be too built up the night before the game. You want to be ready at the kick-off, not the night before. You need to have a bit of craic so he'd be the right fella to have.
And to win on Saturday what does Ireland need to do?
We have to start. Against France it's all about the start. The first twenty minutes is really important. We have to impose the game on them not like in Melbourne where they got away from us and we just couldn't catch them. So we really have to start from the kick off. We must stick with them. If they get a try early on, so-be-it. We can't drop the head. We just have to keep going, keep focussed, stick to the game plan and work.
And what does John Hayes have to do?
Well I think it's up front that will be important on Saturday. It's me as an individual and me as a part of the pack that has to set the platform and win quality ball for the backs. Maybe deny them as much as we can. It's individually and collectively, as a unit. That's what we have to do. Whatever it takes.
And looking forward to it?
Ah yeh, it's always great to be back playing for Ireland. Games don't come much bigger than this, so yeh it's great.