Falcons 17 Chiefs 24
Newcastle Falcons 17
Exeter Chiefs 24
Mark Stevens at Kingston Park
Exeter Chiefs maintained pole position in this season’s Gallagher Premiership, notching up a fourth win on the bounce against rivals Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
Facing off against familiar foes - last season the two clubs met on four occasions - Rob Baxter’s side were given their stiffest examination of the new season yet by a resilient Falcons outfit.
Sam Simmonds, surprisingly left out of this week’s 36-man England training squad, gave a timely reminder to coach Eddie Jones of his powers, bagging two of Exeter’s three tries on the night.
He not only took his seasonal tally to five touchdowns, but added further to his Premiership tally of 20 tries in 28 matches.
Brother Joe converted both his scores, as well as a penalty, while Gareth Steenson bagged the extras to Matt Kvesic’s crucial second half score.
In reply, the Falcons - who offered plenty throughout - countered with tries from Zach Kibirgie and Johnny Williams, while Toby Flood kicked the remainder of their points.
Having made nine changes to his side for last weekend’s visit of Sale Sharks, Baxter again tinkered with his winning formula, recalling Kvesic and Sam Simmonds to the back-row after bouts of illness, Ian Whitten was given the nod in the centre, while Wales and British Lions winger Alex Cuthbert was handed his first start.
The Falcons, meanwhile, also made changes with Adam Brocklebank handed a maiden Premiership start in the front-row, Gary Graham started in a reshuffled back-row, while Kibirige was a last-minute addition, coming in during the warm-up for Alex Tait on the right flank.
Not that it took Kibirgie long to make his mark, just two minutes had elapsed when the Falcons speedster bagged the game’s opening points. He applied the after burners to scorch in under the posts after Williams had delivered him a sublime offload just inside the Chiefs half. Flood converted to give the hosts the dream start.
Home joy was to prove short-lived, however, as the Chiefs levelled things up inside four minutes. Sustained pressure from Baxter’s men saw Messrs Moon, Cuthbert, Kvesic and Hill all make significant inroads into the Newcastle 22. Now, just inches from the home try-line, the Exeter eight combined en masse to propel Sam Simmonds over for the try.
Referee Andrew Jackson was initially unsure of the grounding, but subsequent replays confirmed the score, which Sam’s younger brother Joe converted with ease.
Back on level terms, the Chiefs threatened again just moments later. A razor sharp attack saw Joe Simmonds and Henry Slade combine to release Phil Dollman on the charge, but as the Welshman closed in on the try-line, a swathe of home defenders converged on him to haul him to the deck.
In a scenario similar to their opening score, the Chiefs again went about their business with a succession of pick-and-go raids. Again, they thought they were over. Again, Jackson was unsure. The official again went to Graham Hughes in the truck, but this time he judged in favour of the Falcons and no try was awarded.
The hosts breathed a huge sigh of relief as not only did they repel the next Exeter threat, but they came within a whisker of regaining the lead themselves. Fielding a ball just inside his own half, fast feet and a lightning fast turn of speed saw him dart clear of the Chiefs cover. As he tore down the right flank he seemed destined to score, only for a brilliant last-gasp tackle from Joe Simmonds to not only floor him, but more importantly hold the hosts at bay.
With both sides happy to attack at will, it was the Falcons who were afforded the game’s next big chance. Flood’s penalty to the corner gave them the perfect platform from which to strike, but a loose line-out throw from George McGuigan was gobbled up at the front by Don Armand and the Chiefs were able to clear down field.
Back on the offensive, the Chiefs showed their rivals had it should be done. Slade fired a kick into the corner, Hill took the catch in the middle, before the drive was applied to deadly effect. For sure the Falcons would have known what was coming, but halting the Chiefs driving maul is easier said than done, Sam Simmonds again the beneficiary as he drove over for his fifth converted try of the campaign.
As half time approached, the Falcons cut the deficit when Flood was on target with a routine penalty from the edge of the Exeter 22, while at the other end the Chiefs huffed and puffed, but got little reward from what had been a physical, yet entertaining, first 40 minutes.
HALF TIME NEWCASTLE FALCONS 10 EXETER CHIEFS 14
On the resumption the Chiefs were quickly into their attacking stride as two quick fire penalties allowed them to glean not only decent territory, but also the chance for Joe Simmonds to extend their lead.
The young fly-half slotted Exeter’s first penalty of the season after referee Jackson had penalised the Falcons for a high tackle.
Minutes later and the Falcons again fell foul of the man in the middle. Joe Simmonds fired the penalty into the home 22, after which the Chiefs looked to go wide off the line-out. Dollman threatened initially down the right, before the forwards took on the role of battering ram.
The Falcons, it has to be said, were proving tough to breakdown as first Cuthbert was held up by Kibirgie, then the follow-up charge saw a plethora of Exeter attackers head for the line. Not for the first time on the night, Jackson referred the decision to Graham Hughes, the TV match official.
Not only did he again chalk off the potential score, but it was deemed the Chiefs had in fact infringed themselves, going beyond the ball and denying the Falcons a fair crack at trying to turnover possession.
The threat averted, the Falcons worked their way down field themselves. The pressure was certainly slow and steady, but with advantage in the bag, Flood looped a pass wide to the right where Williams was able to glide over for the try, which former England international Flood converted superbly from the touchline.
As the game entered into the final quarter, Falcons winger Tom Arscott saw a long-range penalty attempt drift wide of the mark, while Graham caused a moment of mayhem in the Chiefs ranks when he tore through the middle with a rampaging run.
It was gripping, end-to-end fair, as the Chiefs threatened next, Cordero bursting through the middle, before Cuthbert and Moon went close. It was on the latter drive that the Falcons were briefly reduced to 14 men, Flood’s illegal intervention on his own line, meant he was sent to the cooler for a ten-minute stint.
The Chiefs looked to use the resultant line-out to drive over for a third try, but again crude antics from the hosts denied them. Handed a second go, the visitors this time made no mistake, driving flanker Kvesic over for the score. Steenson made it a maximum haul with a pin-point conversion.
Exeter’s lead was a slender one at best as the Falcons continued to offer stubborn resistance late on. Kibirgie raided down the right only to knock-on at the vital moment, while two soft penalties conceded by the Chiefs allowed the hosts to twice go for the corner.
On both occasions, however, the Falcons fluffed their line - partly down to pressure from the Exeter jumpers, partly due to some poor throwing from hooker George McGuigan. The visitors not only survived the threat, but eventually won a penalty of their own which Slade dispatched deep down field to clear the danger.
Although nothing came off that kick, a Steenson shot to the corner put the visitors in prime position once more for the bonus point. Kvesic took the throw at the front, the drive went on, again the Falcons infringed. Surprisingly, the officials judged no bigger sanction than another penalty, which this time the home side did thwart, much to the delight of the locals.
All that was left in the dying embers was for the Chiefs to try and make it a fourth successive bonus point win, but try as they may, they were unable to find a way through.
It mattered not, the victory may not have been pretty, but come the end of the season this will be a success to savour.
Falcons: S Hammersley; Z Kibirige, C Harris, J Williams, T Arscott; T Flood (J Hodgson 75), S Takulua; A Brocklebank, G McGuigan (S Socino 74), L Mulipola (J Payne 67); C Green (T Cavubati 67), W Witty; G Graham (C Chick 67), W Welch (capt), M Wilson. Replacements (not used): S Mavinga, S Stuart, T Penny.
Tries - Kibirige, Williams; Conversions - Flood (2); Penalty - Flood
Yellow Card: Flood
Chiefs: P Dollman; S Cordero, H Slade, I Whitten, A Cuthbert; J Simmonds (G Steenson 56), J Maunder; B Moon (A Hepburn 66), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 60), H Williams (T Francis 56); O Atkins (D Dennis 60), J Hill; D Armand (capt), M Kvesic, S Simmonds (D Ewers 59). Replacements (not used): S Maunder, S Hill.
Tries - S Simmonds (2), Kvesic; Conversions - J Simmonds (2), Steenson; Penalty - J Simmonds
Referee: A Jackson