Chiefs 20 Falcons 17
Exeter Chiefs 20
Newcastle Falcons 17
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
This time last year it was brother Sam who was the talk of the town, creating headlines nationally with his eye-catching displays in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Fast forward the clock to present day and again it’s the Simmonds name who is the toast of the Chiefs, but this time it’s younger brother Joe, whose man-of-the display helped guide Exeter to a fourth successive Anglo-Welsh Cup final with victory over Newcastle Falcons at Sandy Park.
Just a week after playing a starring role for Devon’s finest in their Aviva Premiership victory over Saracens, the young playmaker was once more at his sizzling best, scoring 15 of his side’s 20 points on the day.
Half-back partner Stu Townsend grabbed Exeter’s other points courtesy of a third-minute try as the Chiefs set-up a mouth-watering derby encounter against Bath in a week’s time.
The Falcons, however, played their part in a hard-fought encounter and were good value for their 17-7 lead at the break. Kyle Cooper and Simon Hammersley both found their way over the whitewash for scores during the opening period, both of which former England international Toby Flood converted, along with a long-range penalty.
The second period, though, belonged to the Chiefs, who not only hauled in the ten-point deficit with a gutsy, dogged display, but also showed their hunger and desire to pick up the season’s first piece of major silverware.
With Simmonds the sole survivor in the starting line-up from that which beat Saracens the week previous, it was a much-changed Chiefs line-up that took to the field for this latest four encounter.
Aussie international Dave Dennis - playing his first game since September - led the hosts into battle, but he was joined in the ranks by a glut of seasoned stars, including seasoned props Moray Low and Greg Holmes, who provided the cornerstones to a powerful display from the home pack up front.
The Falcons, flying high in the last of the Premiership play-off places following an impressive sequence of results, arrived in the Westcountry with a fully loaded line-up. They made four changes to their side from the previous week at Gloucester, welcoming back international trio Sonatane Takulua, Flood and Maxime Mermoz in the back-line, while up front Will Witty came into the engine room for Calum Green.
However, it was the Chiefs who were the first to show, flying out of the traps like a prized greyhound. Just three minutes had elapsed when Argentinian full-back Santiago Cordero fielded a ball deep inside his own half. With little option but to run, the 24-year-old hot-stepped his way through the heart of the Newcastle defensive line, leaving a trail of defenders grasping at thin air.
Still with work to do, Cordero drew in Takulua before shipping a simple offload to team-mate Townsend, who will not score an easier try this season. Simmonds converted the additional points to give the home side the perfect start.
Minutes later and the Devonians were again back on the attack, this time through Devoto, whose strong burst through the middle caused more issues for the Falcons, who on this occasion were able to scramble sufficiently to swallow up the home threat.
Having survived Exeter’s opening burst, it was now the turn of the visitors to flex their muscles in attack. Flood should have done better when afforded a decent opening on 10 minutes, but he knocked on with his side just five metres from the Chiefs try-line.
But just minutes later there was to be no let-off for Ricky Pellow’s side when Flood plundered a penalty after former Exeter player Josh Matavesi had caused concern within the home record with a trademark charge through the middle.
Up and running, the visitors were looking to use their powerful pack to create the platform from which to attack. Back-row forwards Ally Hogg, Will Welch and Nili Latu were all used as the battering rams, while behind the threat of wingers Sinoti Sinoti and Vereniki Goneva was clearly evident.
The pressure was mounting on the Chiefs and after they conceded a penalty midway inside their own half, the Falcons used the subsequent kick to plant themselves deep behind enemy lines. Working off a five-metre line-out, the visitors combined impressively to set-up the maul that drove Cooper over for their opening score, which Flood duly converted.
And things would not get any easier for Pellow’s side as they fell further behind just before the break when Latu’s rampaging run through the middle allowed the Falcons to shift the ball at speed to the left, where upon Sinoti offered the final pass inside for Hammersley to score with ease.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 7 NEWCASTLE FALCONS 17
Up against it somewhat, the Chiefs needed to find a quickfire response on the resumption. With the wind now at their backs, they started brightly and set-up camp deep inside the Newcastle half.
Initially the forwards did their best to hammer at the Falcons door, but they were getting little in respect of a decent return for their efforts. Undeterred, they continued to press and having gleaned advantage off a series of close-range scrums, the opportunity was there for them to strike a crucial blow.
Pressing hard beneath the Falcons post, the ball was eventually flung wide to the right from Townsend to Simmonds, whose clever side-step saw him cut back on the Newcastle defender and over he scooted for his side’s second try of the afternoon, which he duly converted.
It was just what the Chiefs craved and helped lift the home faithful into a powerful rendition of the ‘Tomahawk Chop’.
Sensing they had the edge at scrum-time, the hosts continued to use the eight-man set-piece as a key strike weapon. Not only was it gleaning them a glut of penalties, but it was also allowing them to gain crucial territory at key moments.
Therefore, it came as no surprise when, just past the hour mark, the Chiefs drew level through Simmonds. The young fly-half thundered off a laser-guided kick from 25m after the Exeter pack had successfully won another penalty from referee Karl Dickson.
With little to choose between either side, the Falcons were afforded a golden opportunity to regain their lead six minutes from time. Devoto was the man singled out for playing the ball on the floor, but this time Flood could not capitalise, his lengthy kick dropping short of the target.
At the other end, Simmonds had no such worries when he was afforded his own shot at goal. Albeit, a lot closer to the mark, the 21-year-old dispatched another pin-point kick to put his side back in front with just three minutes remaining.
The action, though, was far from finished and in a spirited last show of defiance, the Falcons threw caution to the wind and set about one last hurrah to try and clinch their place at Kingsholm.
Initially, the Chiefs defended manfully, putting up a rock-solid pink wall. However, as the clock went red, so the Falcons were awarded a penalty just inside the Exeter half. With Flood having departed stage rightly earlier in the half, it was left to Joel Hodgson to take on the kicking responsibilities.
But, just as Flood found out earlier in the half, the howling wind that blows downfield at Sandy Park is a beast to master and although he had a decent enough connection, right at the death it ran out of juice, dropping short and into the clutches of Cordero.
As the natives celebrated, so the crest-fallen Falcons fell to the floor. There hopes of a Cup Final place decided by just millimetres. For the Chiefs, though, the Cup run continues and who knows, another piece of silverware could be heading back to Devon.
Chiefs: S Cordero; T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, O Devoto, J Short; J Simmonds, S Townsend (W Chudley 60); M Low, J Innard (P Davis 74), G Holmes; M Lees, W Van der Sluys (T Salmon 55); D Dennis (capt, K Horstmann 70), J Salvi, M Kvesic. Replacements (not used): J Kenny, J Owlett, S Morley, T Hendrickson.
Tries - Townsend, J Simmonds; Conversions - J Simmonds (2); Penalties - J Simmonds (2)
Falcons: S Hammersley; V Goneva, M Mermoz (C Harris 67), J Matavesi, S Sinoti; T Flood (J Hodgson 75), S Takulua (M Young 53); S Lockwood (R Vickers 15-26, 53), K Cooper (S Socino 70), J Welsh (S Wilson 37); W Witty, S Robinson; A Hogg, W Welch (capt), N Latu. Replacements (not used): C Green, R Burrows
Tries - Cooper, Hammersley; Conversions - Flood (2); Penalty - Flood
Referee: K Dickson