The manner of Exeter’s comprehensive demolition of Bath at Sandy Park last week drew praise from many quarters, not least of all from within the visiting camp, with rugby director Todd Blackadder sportingly admitting his side had been “schooled” by the champion Chiefs.
Despite a spirited late comeback that earned them a try-bonus point in an eventual 42-29 defeat, it’s hard to argue that Bath were given anything other than a ringside seat at a possession-based master class which demonstrated exactly why Exeter are sweeping all before them.
Incredibly, statistics from the first ten rounds of this season’s Premiership show that, on average, Exeter keep the ball for six minutes and 14 seconds longer per match than Bath, with Rob Baxter’s side averaging 23.31 minutes in possession compared with 17.17 minutes by Bath.
In fact, so good are Chiefs at denying the opposition any ball that they are a full three minutes and 19 seconds ahead of the next best team, Harlequins, who, at 20 minutes and 12 seconds per game, are the only other Premiership team to aver- age more than 20 minutes with the ball.
Gloucester are third on 19.52 minutes per game – 14.2% up on last season, which partly explains their improved form – but why Bath should be bottom of the possession charts is something of a mystery when you consider how attack-minded the Rec outfit usually are.
Speaking to scrum-half Chris Cook last week, I asked him about Exeter. He told me: “Exeter have a very drilled way of playing and they’re awesome at it.
“You simply have to tip your hat to them because they played very well last week and even though we weren’t quite up to scratch, especially in the first half, they were deserved winners and we had no complaints.
“They’ve got very big forwards who are hard to stop and they come at you relentlessly from all angles.
“With ball in play time shooting up this season because of new laws that create a faster ruck speed, clearly that has helped give attacking teams a better chance.”
That still doesn’t quite explain why Bath’s ball in play time is significantly lower than the Chiefs, which is something Blackadder and company may need to investigate.