Chiefs 34 Falcons 24
Exeter Chiefs 34
Newcastle Falcons 24
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Newcastle may have flew South flying high in the Aviva Premiership, but the in-form Falcons ended up having their wings clipped by defending champions Exeter Chiefs in this Round Six encounter.
Rob Baxter's side returned to the top of the table with another maximum haul at Sandy Park.
Aussie duo Nic White and Lachie Turner both got on the try-sheet, as did man-of-the-moment Sam Simmonds, with the Chiefs sealing victory with a penalty try and 12 points from the boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson.
However, it's perhaps an indication of just how hard the Chiefs judge themselves internally that even wins like this are put through the microscope post-match.
Forwards coach Rob Hunter expressed his pleasure at win number four of the campaign, but was quick to highlight that some of the generosity shown by his side in this latest display cannot be afforded to rival top four contenders.
The Falcons, who played their part in an entertaining contest, were able to at least make the long trek back to the North East with a losing bonus point, courtesy of tries from Will Welch, Juan-Pablo Socino, Alex Tait and Vereniki Goneva, the latter two of which were both converted by replacement Toby Flood.
Keen to bounce back at the first attempt following defeat at Leicester the week previous, Baxter made a handful of changes to his starting line-up for the visit of the flying Falcons.
Up front, Carl Rimmer and Harry Williams came into the front-row, Sam Skinner was brought into the back-row, while behind there were starts for both White and Jack Nowell.
The Falcons, meanwhile, made just one change in personnel from that which had seen them defeat London Irish last time out. It came in the pack, where Trevor Davison came in for his maiden Premiership start at loosehead prop.
The settled look to the visitors was evident from the outset as they took the game to their Devon hosts from the first whistle. Dean Richards' side dominated possession and territory during the opening five minutes, but could not find a way through the rock-solid 'Black Wall' of defence.
The closest the Falcons came was when Nili Latu picked off the base of a scrum, before feeding the ball to centre Juan-Pablo Socino, who was unable to take the pass on the burst and dropped the chance right on the home line.
Exeter made the most of the let-off and with their first raid of the contest, they showed their rivals the importance of sticking to script just inches from the whitewash.
Having won a penalty to the corner, the initial thrust from the forwards failed to deliver reward, but when the Chiefs pressed for a second time, Aussie international White was able to take control at the back of a ruck, stealing his way over from a metre out to claim his maiden try for the club.
Steenson's reliable right boot added the extras to Exeter's opening score, before he slotted a straight-forward penalty after Tongan No.8 Latu had been pulled up for straying offside looking to defend his line.
It was ruthless from the champions, who added to their tally just two minutes later when Turner was the beneficiary of some outstanding inter-linking play between White and Simmonds. Again, Steenson added the conversion to put his side 17 points to the good.
If that highlighted the positives of the first quarter, the negative was the sight of the returning Nowell departing the field with a nasty-looking facial injury. Sadly, the England and Lions winger would not return to the fray.
As half time approached, so the Falcons started to rediscover their form. Skipper Welch hauled themselves back into the contest when he snuck over from a five-metre line-out.
Undeterred, the Chiefs countered immediately, hitting their rivals with a third converted try. Quick hands along the Exeter backline created space out wide for Simmonds who, with Woodburn outside of him, declined to offload to his team-mate, instead stepping inside two Newcastle defenders to score under the posts.
It was Simmonds' fifth try of the campaign and further underlined the forward's growing emergence on the big stage.
It was no more than the Chiefs deserved for their efforts, but with virtually the last action of the half, Baxter's side were guilty of switching off, allowing the Falcons to pounce for a second time in the match.
White's box kick out of his own 22 was fielded by Newcastle's Mark Wilson on the turn, he fed the ball out to his back division where Vereniki Goneva had the time and space to draw in the cover, before shipping the ball to his left where Juan-Pablo Socino crossed unopposed.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 24 NEWCASTLE FALCONS 10
Given a lifeline just before the break by Socino, the Argentine's second half did not begin as positively, when he was yellow-carded by referee Andrew Jackson for an elbow into the face of Ian Whitten.
His enforced spell in the cooler not only saw him sidelined for ten minutes, but it also allowed Steenson to step forward and land his second penalty of the afternoon with a kick from midway inside the Falcons half.
Both sides turned to their benches to inject some fresh life into their challenge – but it was the Falcons – now back to a full compliment – who were looking the more threatening.
Replacement Flood hacked through a loose ball to sound their attacking intent, but opposite number Steenson was on hand to scramble back in defence.
The Falcons, though, had the five-metre scrum and from the perfect attacking platform, they worked the opening for Tait to shrug off the attentions of Phil Dollman and steal over for their third try, converted this time by the boot of former England international Flood.
opes of a North East revival, though, were soon extinguished as the Chiefs regained possession from the restart, setting up a marauding driving maul which seemed destined for the line, until it was crudely brought to the deck by the interventions of Newcastle winger DTH Van der Merwe.
Referee Jackson had no option but to yellow card the Canadian international and award the penalty try, which once more put the Chiefs two scores clear entering into the final quarter.
The Falcons were far from finished, gleaning a bonus point try of their own with just four minutes remaining with a gift-wrapped score for Goneva.
Capitalising on loose play from Jonny Hill, the Falcons pinned Turner back on his own line, and from the resultant close-range scrum, Sam Stuart nipped round the blindside to feed the Fijian winger for the simplest of scores in the right corner. Again, Flood converted with aplomb from the left flank.
It was hardly the kind of finish the Chiefs would have envisaged, but thankfully the job had already been done. Points accrued, pole position in the bag, now the Chiefs can focus their mindset to the challenge of tackling Europe's elite next week. First up, Glasgow Warriors on home soil.
Chiefs: L Turner; J Nowell (P Dollman 20), H Slade, I Whitten (T Hendrickson 64), O Woodburn; G Steenson, N White (S Townsend 74); C Rimmer (B Moon 52), J Yeandle (capt, E Taione 67), H Williams (T Francis 54); M Lees, J Hill; S Skinner (J Salvi 57), D Armand, S Simmonds (O Atkins 66).
Tries – White, Turner, S Simmonds, Penalty Try; Conversions – Steenson (3), Penalty Try; Penalties – Steenson (2)
Falcons: A Tait; DTH Van der Merwe, C Harris, J-P Socino (J Matavesi 57), V Goneva; C Willis (T Flood 54), S Takulua (S Stuart 68); T Davison (R Vickers 50), S Socino (K Cooper 50), J Welsh (J Ilnicki 69); C Green, W Witty (S Robinson 57); M Wilson, W Welch (capt), N Latu (A Hogg 54).
Tries – Welch, JP Socino, Tait, Goneva; Conversions – Flood (2)
Yellow Cards: JP Socino, Van der Merwe
Referee: A Jackson