Premiership final: The stats behind Exeter and Wasps’ journey to Twickenham

Delve into the stats with performance analyst Ross Hamilton ahead of the Gallagher Premiership final on Saturday 24 October, exclusively on BT Sport.

Published: 23 October 2020 - 5.09pm

After a season like no other we finally arrive at the showcase event for Premiership rugby. Exeter v Wasps was only confirmed on Wednesday this week, but nonetheless we are here. It has arrived and it features the two teams who earned the right to be there.

We’ll take a look through how each of them has gone about it, their strengths and potential weaknesses and highlight some key individual players in this analytical review.

The data available here is the exact same data available to all the Premiership teams, there are thousands of metrics analysed and disseminated across every player, team and season and therefore the insight we will go into is akin to the type of analysis elite teams and players will get when preparing for matches.

This level of insight is only available to our BT Sport viewers and comes via our resident performance analyst Ross Hamilton who after working for Saracens and England has turned his attention to BT Sport’s rugby coverage to give you an unprecedented look into the game and provide a level of understanding not offered anywhere else.

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Playing Styles

The two finalists, the teams that finished 1st and 2nd in the table over the course of the season; both incredibly successful but how these two teams go about their business is almost polar opposite.

A metric we call ‘playmaker balance’ determines who, and where on the pitch, these teams want to play from. That’s to say where the impetus for each ‘play’ is instigated and therefore we can see both the important players involved and the playing width of each team.

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In comparison to the league, Exeter play a lot off their 9 and a lot off their 12, they actually play the LOWEST off 10 in the whole league. What this means is that they initially play close to the ruck, one pass out from the 9 at the base and they use their big forward runners to win collisions and get gainline success.

Once that’s achieved, they then almost bypass 10, Joe Simmonds gets the ball through his hands as quickly as possible that then allows the 12 to instigate the next play much wider out. They earn the right to go wide. Simmonds has the highest pass ratio of any fly half in this season’s Premiership with 74% of his ball in hand resulting in a pass.

What this has done for Exeter is allow them to open teams up much earlier in the match as they don’t need to bludgeon defences down so much. In contrast to their previous two seasons where their points difference has been highest in the final quarter (highest of the league in fact as well), this season it is their lowest quarter and actually profit much more in the ‘middle’ 40 between 20-60 minutes.

For Wasps however they have the 2nd HIGHEST playmaker balance off 10 and in fact the 2nd LOWEST off 9. What this suggests is that they want to move the ball away from the ruck as much as possible and into the hands of their young talented fly half, Jacob Umaga, where firstly his skill but the increased space will lend itself to more attacking success.

Both of these styles lead to high attacking output and ultimately tries and points but again done differently.

Efficiency in two different ways

Wasps operate with fairly low possession time; they average 17 minutes and 3 seconds of ball in hand per game and that’s only the 7th most in the league. They then only have the 11th most carries (104.3) and 11th most passes (117.3) per game, rather limited attacking opportunities perhaps and yet what they achieve from it is exceptional.

The 2nd MOST clean breaks (9.6) and defenders beaten (23.0) in the whole league and then the BEST gainline success (50.0%) all leading to scoring the 2nd most tries (3.7) but the MOST points per game (30.8). Those numbers and rankings by themselves are quite exceptional but if we factor in how little possession they start with, their efficiency in possession is second to none.

30.8
The average number of points scored by Wasps this season

Exeter then in their differing way have the HIGHEST possession time in the league with 19 minutes and 20 seconds, they want to keep the ball as much as possible, so much so, they average the FEWEST kicks in play per game (19.1), they don’t risk offloads often with just 5.3 per game and therefore that gives them the 2nd most carries for which to attack with.

What they do still rely on primarily, but not solely, is their repeated attacking success. What that means is they have the 3rd best gainline success (48.7%), collision success (18.3%) AND metres made (377.0) all of which constantly edge them closer to the opposition try line where they convert that attacking output into the MOST tries this season (3.8 per game) and the 2nd most points (28.9).

To highlight this contrast further Wasps average 43.1 individual possessions per game (defined as each time that team has the ball in their hands in an attacking capacity, whether that possession lasts 1 phase or 20 that is still one possession).

Exeter actually average 2 possessions fewer (41.1 per game) and so we can see how much Exeter try to maximise each possession by having over 2 minutes more possession time from fewer individual possessions than Wasps.

Turnovers

The enemy of efficiency is clearly turnovers and this area could be a huge battle on the weekend again with both teams differing in their styles here.

Wasps as a team average 7.0 turnovers per game, 2nd only to Leicester over the course of the season, Exeter manage just 5.2 (11th overall with Bristol the only team winning fewer). These do include ALL turnovers won where that could be in a tackle, forced to touch etc. but if we just look at breakdown turnovers won (jackals) then a clear picture emerges.

If we also look at total numbers for the season for a starker comparison, Exeter have won just 38 breakdown turnovers compared to Wasps’ 101 and Jack Willis of Wasps has won 39 by himself!

This ability is so incredibly influential in both halting the opposition attack but also potentially providing your team with turnover ball where you can attack a transitioning defence which has the least structure and therefore might say is the weakest.

Obviously, a huge strength of Wasps’ and an area they clearly have the edge. However, Exeter average just 1.7 breakdown turnovers per game in the Premiership this season, in their Champions Cup final vs Racing though they managed 6, including one vital turnover from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne right on their own try line. This may indicate Exeter felt the need to apply this weapon in a final and therefore could provide a good match up this weekend.

Red Zone

A team’s effectiveness in converting their chances once in the opposition 22 is the biggest single determining factor for whether they go on to win.

Over the course of the season these two teams have the MOST points scored IN TOTAL from their Red Zone entries and the MOST points scored PER Red Zone entry (RZ Efficiency). No surprises again then that they’re both in the final.

Exeter on average score 27.3 points (1st) from their 13.1 entries (4th) for an efficiency of 2.08 (points per entry) which is also 1st. Wasps average 26.4 points (2nd) from their 12.9 entries (5th) for an efficiency of 2.05 (2nd).

Exeter have the slight edge here but it’s Wasps’ development over the course of this season that I want to highlight now.

35
The number of points scored by Exeter and Wasps from their Red Zone entries in the semi-finals

Wasps lost their director of rugby, Dai Young, after round 9 at which point their RZ efficiency was 1.65 and in 5th place overall. Since Lee Blackett took over and up until the end of the regular season, rounds 10-22, their efficiency was 2.16 and equal 1st place with Exeter in fact.

In their respective semi-finals both teams scored 35 points from their Red Zone entries, however, Exeter had twice as many ventures into the opposition 22, 16 to Wasps’ 8 and that means Wasps’ efficiency was TWICE as good as Exeter’s, 4.38 to 2.19.

That Wasps efficiency of 4.38 was actually the 2nd BEST efficiency in any match from any team all season (and in a semi-final no less). The only team performing better in fact was themselves in round 14 vs Northampton.

A scintillating match-up then, two teams doing it their own way and both as exciting as each other. All of which, no doubt, will provide an enthralling watch to see who comes out Premiership champions from 5.15pm on BT Sport 1 HD and Ultimate.