Chiefs 74 Falcons 3
Exeter Chiefs 74
Newcastle Falcons 3
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter’s hot pursuit of Bristol Bears at the top of the Gallagher Premiership hit new levels as the Chiefs produced a record-breaking performance to see off Newcastle Falcons at Sandy Park.
Having seen Sale Sharks leapfrog them into second spot on Friday night with a hard-fought victory over the Bears, the response from the defending champions was simply emphatic in the heat of the Devon sunshine.
Rob Baxter’s side were ‘red hot’ as they emphatically dispatched the Falcons with a 12-try demolition they will have been noted by all of their play-off rivals. Sure, the visitors changed things up for the lengthy trek to the Westcountry, but even so the Chiefs still had to put them away.
Henry Slade - who has endured a somewhat eventful week off the field following comments made to a national newspaper - led the way for the home side. His two tries were just the highlights of a man-of-the-match display in front of watching England head coach, Eddie Jones.
Team-mate Jacques Vermeulen also helped himself to a try double, whilst there were further touchdowns for Sam Skinner, Alex Cuthbert, Joe Simmonds, Dave Ewers, Harvey Skinner, Stuart Hogg, Tom O’Flaherty and, of course, the obligatory score for Sam Simmonds, whose first half effort extended his league record to 20 for the season.
It was vintage stuff from the Chiefs, who are now just three points adrift of the Bears at the top of the table with just two rounds of the regular season remaining.
For the Falcons, it was a sobering afternoon in which their only reward was a first half penalty from skipper Toby Flood. They were dominated in every facet of the contest and could easily have lost by more as referee Andrew Jackson had to chalked off two further scores for the home side.
The victory - a record margin for the Chiefs in the top-flight - means they remain in the top two and still on course for a home semi-final in next month’s play-offs.
Welcoming back fans for the first time since December, Baxter stuck with a largely unchanged side from that which had won at London Irish last time out. In the pack, Alec Hepburn and Sam Skinner were added to the mix, whilst behind Facundo Cordero got the nod over Hogg in the full-back jersey.
With the wind at their backs in the opening half, it didn’t take the Chiefs - spurred on by a crowd of just over 3,000 - long to hit their stride. An early penalty driven into the corner, allowed the home side to find Jannes Kirsten at the resultant line-out - from which the Exeter eight formed as one to propel Scottish international Sam Skinner over for the try, converted by Joe Simmonds.
A dream start for the hosts it may have been, but it was the Falcons who countered with the next move, reducing the deficit when Flood was able to land a routine penalty from midway inside the home half.
Little did we know at the time, that would be the best of Newcastle’s attacking endeavours. Instead, it would be the Chiefs who would dominate the remaining 70 minutes of action.
Quickly back in their stride, a cross-field kick from Joe Simmonds for elder brother Sam was picked off well by Falcons winger Chidera Obonna, but with little support from his team-mates, his concession of a penalty allowed the Chiefs to position themselves back within strike range.
Using the tried-and-trusted formula, the pack once again assembled en masse, this time working the opening for No.8 Sam Simmonds to cross in the right-hand corner. It was his 20th touchdown of a record-breaking season - and he’s not finished yet!
Already the signs were looking ominous for the visitors and when they lost flanker John Hardie to the sidelines for a ten-minute stint, the merciless Chiefs made the Scottish international pay for his high tackle on Luke Cowan-Dickie by slamming in a dozen further points.
Sam Simmonds thought he had grabbed his second of the game on 28 minutes, but his effort was chalked off for some blocking by fellow British Lion, Luke Cowan-Dickie. Undeterred, the Chiefs came once more, this time making the breakthrough when strong work from Ewers and Ollie Devoto allowed Cuthbert to glide over for a third try of the game.
Minutes later and the Chiefs were at it again as Cuthbert’s fast feet, Joe Simmonds’ tip on, then a sublime grubber in behind from Devoto allowed Slade to gobble up the possession and score in the corner.
It was vintage stuff from the Chiefs, but they were far from finished and with half time fast approaching, they wrapped up the bonus point when all-action South African Vermeulen became the latest addition to the scoring charts, the open side rounding things off with a close-range finish after Cowan-Dickie had been held up from quickly-taken, tap penalty.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 31 NEWCASTLE FALCONS 3
Already up against it, the interval did at least give the Falcons a 15-minute respite from the incessant battering from the Chiefs. However, less than a minute had elapsed on the restart and Ewers was reminding Dean Richards’ side of the threat posed by the home side. His marauding run through the middle quickly got the Chiefs on the front foot and deep behind enemy lines.
The Falcons did well to repel that raid, but the Chiefs were piling the pressure on. Devoto and Slade both went close, before Jack Maunder thought he had snuck over for a score of his own. Initially, referee Jackson appeared happy with the score, but on consultation with the TMO, his effort was ruled out for a double movement just inches from the try-line.
Maunder and the Chiefs may have felt somewhat aggrieved, but it mattered not as within a minute the home side were adding to their tally. Vermeulen - who again enjoyed a fine game before hobbling out of the action - was the try-scorer, this time finishing off from a few metres out after Sam Simmonds had unselfishly offloaded with the white line in sight.
In cruise control, the Chiefs could easily have shut up shop and readied themselves for next weekend’s trip to Northampton Saints. Baxter took the opportunity to run his bench, which included Jonny Hill and Hogg, both of whom will be heading to South Africa this summer with the British Lions.
The fresh injection of life from those two - and the others for that matter - meant the Falcons had no respite from the wave-upon-wave of attacks that the Chiefs continued to hit them with.
Slade grabbed his second of the match, finishing off great work from O’Flaherty, before Joe Simmonds glided over for another just before the hour mark to take the Chiefs to the half century mark.
The beleaguered Falcons did their best to offer a form of resistance, but it was futile as the home side continued to cause no end of mayhem. The hulking frame of Ewers saw the flanker stretch out for his sixth Premiership try of the campaign, before Hogg rounded off a sublime right-to-left move which had seen Hill take the line-out before the ball was shipped at pace across the back division to the Scottish captain who did the rest of the damage.
Not finished there, replacement Harvey Skinner scooted over for try No.11, finishing off excellent link-up play between Hill, Stu Townsend and Harry Williams, the latter of whom offloaded having been felled just shy of the line by some last-ditch defence from the Falcons.
Even then there was still time for the Chiefs to put the cherry on top of their cake. With little over a minute to play, it was the masterful Slade who helped create the space out wide to release O’Flaherty. Still with plenty to do, the London-born flyer applied the after burners, before taking to the air, diving his way over in the left corner to seal the deal for Baxter’s men.
Sandy Park duly erupted into a crescendo of noise - a simply magical moment - yet one which has been sadly lacking for far too long.Here’s hoping we have more of those moments in the coming weeks, after which the thoughts will very much turn towards a potential return to HQ on June 26.
Chiefs: F Cordero; A Cuthbert (S Hogg 48), H Slade, O Devoto (H Skinner 64), T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), J Maunder (S Townsend 54); A Hepburn (B Moon 51), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle h/t), H Williams (T Francis 51-65); J Kirsten, S Skinner (J Hill 51); D Ewers, J Vermeulen (S Lonsdale 57), S Simmonds.
Tries - S Skinner, S Simmonds, Cuthbert, Slade (2), Vermeulen (2), J Simmonds, Ewers, H Skinner, Hogg; Conversions - J Simmonds (7)
Falcons: J Hodgson; A Tait, G Wacokecoke, P Lucock, C Obonna (Z Kerr 63); T Flood (capt, W Haydon-Wood 54), S Stuart (L Schreuder 54); K Cooper (S Lockwood 38-40, 45), R Smith (C Maddison 45), R Ah You (M Tampin 45); T Salmon, R Farrar; G Graham, J Hardie (W Montgomery 65), C Fearns (T Marshall 48).
Penalty - Flood
Yellow Card: Hardie
Referee: A Jackson