Exeter Chiefs have been dealt a major Heineken Cup blow after former captain Tom Hayes was forced to retire.
The second-row, who played 136 games for the Devon club, has been battling a back injury and has made just two appearances this season and none in Europe.
And he has finally been forced to concede defeat, leaving current captain Dean Mumm, Romana Graham, Damien Welsh and James Hanks the remaining boiler house options in the Chiefs' Heineken Cup squad.
"It's been a great journey for me, but this is where I get off," said Hayes.
"Of course it's sad to be going out like this and I'm obviously disappointed to be leaving behind the boys that I've been playing with over the last few years.
"Rugby has been my life for a long, long time now, but sometimes you have to listen to your body and what the medical people are telling you.
"For me, it's been a privilege and an honour to be part of what we've done here at Exeter in the last few years.
"There have been some huge achievements along the way and lots of things that so many of us can be proud of. Obviously winning promotion into the Premiership is a highlight, as was getting into the Heineken Cup for the first time.
"To be playing sides like Clermont, Leinster and the Scarlets last year shows just how far we've come as a club.
"But I think staying up in the Premiership that first year is probably the biggest highlight for me. Nobody gave us much of a chance, but inwardly we backed ourselves with a group of players and we ended up finishing eighth."
And head coach Rob Baxter has paid tribute to what Hayes, the brother of two-time Heineken Cup winner and Munster great John, has achieved at Sandy Park.
"In years to come, people will look back at this period and he will be one of those guys that will go down in history as being part of the team that not only helped us get out of the Championship and into the Premiership, but then got us into the Amlin and the Heineken Cups and really helped to establish us as a club," said Baxter.
"It's always bad when a player has to retire prematurely from rugby because of injury, but at the same time he has had a good innings with us and he's enjoyed some very good times with Exeter.
"I can't give him too much credit for what he has done. He epitomises a lot of what we are about here at the club: he's hardworking, he's gets on with things without too much fuss and he will always dig deep when you need him most."
Exeter currently lead the way in Pool Two but it remains wide open with just one-point separating top to bottom ahead of their December double-headers with reigning champions Toulon.
The atmospheric Stade Vélodome in Marseille looks set for a 40,000 plus attendance for the Heineken Cup semi-final clash on Sunday, 27 April between reigning champions, Toulon - gunning for a fourth European final in five years - and Munster Rugby, who have reached a record 11th tournament semi-final.