Newcastle Falcons took a four-try bonus point in Devon on Saturday as Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs emerged victorious from an entertaining contest.
Newcastle began the game brightly, enjoying plenty of ball in hand and kicking a penalty to the left corner as a result of their early pressure.
On that occasion the moment passed without score as Juan Pablo Socino was judged to have knocked on from a short pop under the posts, and the visitors found themselves seven down on 10 minutes when the champions kicked a penalty of their own to the corner.
Even when the Falcons defended the maul threat successfully Exeter found a way through, scrum-half Nic White sniping over from a close-range ruck for a try converted by Gareth Steenson, who took his side’s lead into double figures with a 17th minute penalty.
Exeter increased that margin further when White’s blind-side break put countryman Lachie Turner away for a try in the right corner, Steenson adding the extras for a Chiefs side who showed equal energy in defence as they repelled Newcastle’s attacking forays.
The home team wrapped up Nili Latu when the Tongan talisman attempted a crashing run down the right, but the Falcons finally found an in-road on 32 minutes when a penalty was kicked to the left corner and Will Welch rumbled over from a short-range pick and go.
The champions hit back almost straightaway when No 8 Sam Simmonds raced down the left to dot down their third of the afternoon, Steenson’s simple conversion seeing them take a 24-5 lead.
Newcastle chipped five off that margin in the dying embers of the half when Mark Wilson showed fine hands to take an up-and-under at full speed, feeding Alex Tait and Vereniki Goneva in a slick move which ended with Juan Pablo Socino scoring in the left corner.
The Argentinean centre’s afternoon came down to earth during the early moments of the second half when he was sin-binned for a leading arm while carrying the ball, Steenson slotting the resulting penalty from in front of the posts.
Newcastle had no intention of lying down, and earned themselves a third try on the hour mark when a series of patient phases near the posts enabled Alex Tait to pick an arcing path to the try-line for a well-taken score down the right.
Toby Flood converted having come on for the first Premiership appearance of his second stint at the club, but the awarding of a penalty try for side entry at a maul near their own line handed Exeter a bonus point and with it the match – DTH van der Merwe sent to the sin-bin.
Even with the game effectively gone the four-try bonus point was only a score away, the visitors’ ambitious offloading game seeing them retain a glimmer of hope as they made the Chiefs work hard in defence.
The bonus point arrived with three minutes to spare when replacement scrum-half Sam Stuart fed Goneva from a five-metre scrum, the ex-Richmond man showing superb vision to exploit a defensive gap.
Flood converted from the left touchline, but a second bonus point proved beyond reach as the Chiefs withstood a further late rally.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Craig Willis (Toby Flood, 53), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Sam Stuart, 67); 1 Trevor Davison (Rob Vickers, 49), 2 Santiago Socino (Kyle Cooper, 49), 3 Jon Welsh (Jake Ilnicki, 68), 4 Calum Green, 5 Will Witty, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Nili Latu (Ally Hogg, 53).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Will Welch, Juan Pablo Socino, Alex Tait, Vereniki Goneva. Conversions: Toby Flood 2.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell (Phil Dollman, 21), 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten (Tom Hendrickson, 63), 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Nic White (Stuart Townsend, 73); 1 Carl Rimmer (Ben Moon, 51), 2 Jack Yeandle (captain, Elvis Taione, 66)), 3 Harry Williams (Tomas Francis, 53), 4 Mitch Lees, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Sam Skinner (Julian Salvi, 56), 7 Don Armand, 8 Sam Simmonds (Ollie Atkins, 66).
Exeter scorers - Tries: Nic White, Lachie Turner, Sam Simmonds, Penalty try. Conversions: Gareth Steenson 3. Penalties: Gareth Steenson.
Referee: Andrew Jackson. Attendance: 9,624.
Turner, Nowell, Slade, Whitten, Woodburn, Steenson, White, Rimmer, Yeandle, Williams, Lees, Hill, Skinner, Armand, Simmonds
Replacements Taione, Moon, Francis, Atkins, Salvi, Townsend, Hendrickson, Dollman
Tait, Van Der Merwe, Harris, Socino, Goneva, Willis, Takulua, Davison, Socino, Welsh, Green, Witty, Wilson, Welch, Latu
Replacements Cooper, Vickers, Ilnicki, Robinson, Hogg, Stuart, Flood, Matavesi
referee: Andrew Jackson
assistant: Jack Makepeace
assistant: Phil Watters
TMO: Keith Lewis