Exeter Chiefs 2018/19: Best Premiership team ever?

EXETER, ENGLAND - MARCH 24: A general view of the Exeter Chiefs changing room prior to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Bath Rugby at Sandy Park on March 24, 2019 in Exeter, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Another bonus point victory at Sandy Park handed Exeter Chiefs a guaranteed play-off place by the end of Round 17, the quickest time in Premiership history this has happened. But how does the Exeter Chiefs 2018/19 side compare to the greatest in the Premiership era?

James Barker looks back at the best teams with the best ever records in the Premiership and what made them great sides.

Exeter Chiefs 2018/19

14 Wins 71 points (after 17 matches)

First to the current contender. A major stat to consider is that the Chiefs have amassed more points than if they’d won all of their matches (without bonus points). They currently average 4.1 points per match; remarkable considering they have lost three matches this season.

So even when they lose, they still pick up points to maintain league position. In fact, Gloucester are the only team to defeat Exeter and restrict them to one league point. Exeter’s total of 12 try bonus points is four more than nearest rivals Saracens and double that of third placed Gloucester. This consistent ability to maximise points per match sees them as almost certain table toppers for the second year running.

It is well documented that Exeter’s game is based on their forwards’ strength and the pick and go game. Their strategic strength is that anyone in their squad can step in and play to the game plan. Take Joe Simmonds vs Bath; he wasn’t due to play until Gareth Steenson withdrew just before kickoff. Simmonds went on to be man of the match.

So what about the contenders?

Leicester Tigers 1998 – 2002

1998/99 22 wins, 44 points (26 game season, no bonus points)

1999/00 18 wins, 51 points (no bonus points)

2000/01 18 wins, 82 points

2001/02 18 wins, 83 points

This was the Leicester Tigers team that established the East Midlands side as the premier club in England. This run of fours years at the top and four titles under Dean Richards has yet to be repeated. There may have been no play-offs in these days but to win over 80% of their games in four consecutive years highlights sheer dominance. Back-to-back Heineken Cups in 2001 and 2002 was the icing on the cake.

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Of course the backbone of this team went on to steer England to the World Cup in 2003. Martin Johnson, Neil Back, Martin Corry, Graham Rowntree, Julian White and Ben Kay from the forwards alone were part of this success. Prominent current day commentators Austin Healey and Andy Goode pulled the strings behind this intimidating pack.

It is no coincidence that three players (Richard Cockerill, Geordan Murphy and Pat Howard) from this era have gone on to become Tigers’ Head Coach, with Johnson, Rowntree and Paul Gustard also coaching England.  The winning culture instilled in Cockerill in particular helped to continue Tigers’ remarkable Premiership record of reaching nine successive finals from 2005 to 2013.

Gloucester 2002/03

17 wins, 80 points

Perhaps the most dominant side never to have been crowned Premiership champions, this Gloucester side finished the regular season 15 points clear of second placed Wasps. They also won the Powergen Cup, back when the domestic cup competition was a full strength tournament with a final at Twickenham.

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With a pack powered by England World Cup winning props to be in Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman, supported by the kicking machine Ludovic Mercier at 10, and complimented by speedy wings Marcel Garvey and James Simpson-Daniel, Gloucester seemed to have danger men all over the field.

Their success was based on an unbeaten and dominant home record, with only three defeats on the road leaving them clear table toppers over 22 rounds. Famously though, they lost the first Premiership final convincingly to Wasps and a potential era of success never came to pass.

Saracens 2013/14

19 wins, 87 points

The largest points haul to date, and the total Exeter are aiming to beat. Saracens first won the Premiership in 2010/11, and topped the table the year before with 17 wins and 77 points.

However it was this particular squad that blended an old guard of England internationals with the new generation who are now world class superstars. The experience of Steve Borthwick, Charlie Hodgson and Matt Stevens as well as Neil De Cock complemented the likes of Owen Farrell. Billy Vunipola, Alex Goode and Chris Ashton perfectly. The fact that this still makes up a familiar Saracens lineup pays tribute to Saracens’ long-term continuity and culture.

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Saracens only suffered defeat three times, to London Irish, Leicester and Northampton. And it was the Saints who would break Saracens hearts at Twickenham when a try at the end of extra time gave Northampton their first Premiership crown.

Unlike Gloucester, Saracens were able to bounce back from this crushing defeat . They went on to win the title the next year and have reached every final bar one since.

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