Chiefs 36 Falcons 5
Exeter Chiefs 36
Newcastle Falcons 5
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
London’s Calling again for Rob Baxter and his Exeter Chiefs side after they breezed their way into a third successive Aviva Premiership Final with victory over visiting Newcastle Falcons.
The defending champions dominated throughout at a sun-drenched Sandy Park to set-up a mouth-watering encounter against Saracens at HQ in a week’s time.
Three Joe Simmonds penalties allowed the Chiefs to build up a head of steam before Aussie scrum-half Nic White stole over under the posts just before the break to claim the first of three converted tries for the Devonians.
Olly Woodburn and skipper Don Armand would add further scores, both of which were converted, to put the finishing touches on a polished performance from Baxter’s side.
Falcons replacement Alex Tait helped himself to a second half score to put Dean Richards’ side on the board, but that was scant reward on an afternoon when they struggled to cope with Exeter’s sheer power, pace and precision.
Two weeks after rounding off the regular season with an impressive victory at Harlequins, one which ensured the Chiefs finished top of the pile for the first time in their history, Baxter welcomed back Alec Hepburn, Armand, Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade into his starting line-up for this last four showdown.
The visitors, meanwhile, welcomed back former England international Toby Flood into their line-up at fly-half - and he was one of eight changes they made to their line-up from that which was defeated at home by Wasps in Round 22.
With personnel in place and a capacity crowd packed into every corner of Sandy Park, it was the Chiefs – up against a stiff first half wind – who set the early tone. Their opening salvo saw them go over 20 attacking phases before they were pulled up for holding on just on the edge of the Newcastle 22.
Moments later and that were at it again, producing another flurry of attacking waves, only to suffer the same outcome.
The pressure, however, was mounting by the minute and when they threatened again, this time they were rewarded when Simmonds slotted a routine penalty after a powerful carry from Dave Ewers saw the Newcastle defenders fail to release the hulking Exeter forward as he looked to lay the ball back.
Simmonds doubled the home side’s lead with a second penalty on 25 minutes, before he added to his tally just moments later when, following a stunning break from Lachie Turner saw the Aussie full-back scorch through the heart of the Falcons defensive line. Although he was felled short of the line, compatriot White looked to shift the ball wide at pace, but his intended pass to the left was impeded by Evan Olmstead.
The Falcons lock was duly sanctioned with a yellow card for his blatant actions, whilst Simmonds banged over the penalty to put his side nine points to the good.
Such was Exeter’s first half dominance – they bossed possession by 93% - the only real surprise was that they hadn’t added more to the scoreboard. However, as half time approached, so the Chiefs made their pressure pay once more.
Another electric break from Turner saw him scythe through the middle, before the ball was recycled through the hands of front-row duo Luke Cowan-Dickie and Hepburn, before White took charge to snipe over under the sticks for the converted score.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 16 NEWCASTLE FALCONS 0
Now with the elements in their favour, the Chiefs re-emerged knowing they were now just 40 minutes away from another trip to Twickers. Again, they bossed the early exchanges of the half. A five-metre line-out got them on the front foot, but as they looked to strike, a spilled pass allowed the Falcons to turn over possession and momentarily clear their lines.
At the other end, Premiership Player of the Season Vereniki Goneva picked off a looped pass from Simmonds as he looked to go wide, but thankfully on this occasion the Fijian’s normally deadly hands saw him cough up possession and Exeter’s young fly-half breath a huge sigh of relief.
Simmonds quickly made amends, stroking over two successful penalties inside four minutes to extend his side’s grip on proceedings to that of 22 points.
To their credit, the Falcons refused to lie down in the sapping heat and their efforts were duly rewarded when, following their first real spell of pressure in the Exeter 22, they forged the opening for Tait to race around for their opening try.
Flood looked to add the extras to that score, but lighting speed from Turner saw the Aussie – on his last appearance at Sandy Park – charge down the kick, much to the delight of virtually everyone inside the stadium.
That action, it has to be said, underlined the desire shown in the Chiefs side. With just four of last season’s Twickenham starters on show from the outset in this game, Baxter has used the current campaign to mould another potential title-winning team.
The Chiefs were far from finished and having reasserted themselves back up field, they used a dominant scrum to create the platform for their second try. Propelling the Falcons pack back at a rate of knots, White picked from the base, snuck around the blindside, before delivering a perfectly timed pass for Woodburn to squeeze over in the left corner.
Simmonds, as he has done for much of the second half of this season, obliged with a sublime touchline conversion.
The young playmaker would depart shortly after, as did a number of other front-line stars, signalling a final outing for Thomas Waldrom on the hallowed Sandy Park turf. The former England international was given a thunderous reception as he trooped onto the pitch for the older of the Simmonds clan.
Waldrom was quickly into the action, as was fellow replacement Stuart Townsend, who was denied a try of his own on the intervention of the TMO. The scrum-half appeared to have darted over for a third score, only for the officials to judge that Olmstead had been blocked illegally attempt to halt the Exeter No.9.
It seemed a tough call on Townsend, but the TMO was called into action again, this time when it appeared Tait had collected a second of the afternoon. The full-back latched onto a clever kick in behind from Flood but, in the process of dotting down, the Falcon dropped the ball. His error was met with a rousing roar of approval from the natives as they studied the numerous on-screen replays.
The final word, however, belonged to the Chiefs. With the party already in full swing around the stadium, it was left to Armand to apply the coupe de grace, finishing off a trademark Waldrom charge, by scoring under the posts. Gareth Steenson converted with the last kick of the game.
Job done, now the Chiefs must ready themselves for a testing assignment against Saracens, who themselves warmed up in style for the final by defeating Wasps at Allianz Park.
Chiefs: L Turner; J Nowell, H Slade (I Whitten 65), S Hill, O Woodburn; J Simmonds (G Steenson 68), N White (S Townsend 61); A Hepburn (B Moon 55), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 61), T Francis (G Holmes 55); M Lees (S Skinner 55), J Hill; D Ewers, D Armand (capt), S Simmonds (T Waldrom 65).
Tries - White, Woodburn, Armand; Conversions - J Simmonds (2), Steenson; Penalties - J Simmonds (5)
Falcons: S Hammersley (A Tait 55); V Goneva, C Harris, J Matavesi (J-P Socino 57), S Sinoti; T Flood (J-P Socino 39-40), M Young (S Takulua 51); S Lockwood (R Vickers 51), K Cooper (S Socino 29-36, 51), S Wilson (D Wilson 29); C Green (W Witty 67), E Olmstead; M Wilson (capt), G Graham, A Hogg (N Latu 51).
Try - Tait
Yellow Card: Olmsted
Referee: M Carley