Match Report

Exeter Chiefs - 25

Newcastle Falcons - 16

Saturday 23rd Mar 2024 | KO 15:00 | Sandy Park

Newcastle Falcons showed the grit and resolve which will become synonymous with the Steve Diamond era on Saturday at Sandy Park, but they narrowly missed out on a share of the points in a robust Gallagher Premiership encounter.

Leading for the first half-hour and staying within bonus point range until five minutes from time, the mid-season rebuild nonetheless showed plenty of signs of promise against an Exeter Chiefs side whose home form is up there with the very best.

The Falcons had got off to the perfect start in the very first minute when winger Ben Stevenson showed pace and power in abundance to score in the left corner, breaking free of his marker before sitting down the last defender with a trademark bump-off.

Brett Connon added the touchline conversion despite the strong wind, but the home side responded with a wave of pressure which ended on 11 minutes with Greg Fisilau scoring an unconverted try from a tap penalty in the right corner.

Newcastle went straight up the other end and added three from the restart as Exeter conceded a penalty on their own 22 which Connon duly slotted.

But they were reduced to 14 men shortly after when Guy Pepper was sin-binned for not retreating ten metres at a tap penalty near his own line.

Exeter took a scrum-five from the resulting penalty but were themselves penalised at the set-piece – the reprieve proving only temporary for Newcastle as the teams were drawn level on 25 minutes.

A Chiefs kick to the right corner saw Elliott Obatoyinbo athletically keep the ball infield, but it was a grateful Zack Wimbush who scooped up the loose ball to score one of the more bizarre tries you will see.

Exeter led for the first time just after the half-hour when Australian prop Scott Sio scored from a close-range pick and go in the left corner, but the margin was reduced to two when Connon chipped over a simple penalty from in front of the posts.

Slack discipline from Newcastle handed the hosts a soft penalty in the final minute of the half, and they made the most of it by kicking to the right corner, from where Rusi Tuima powered over for the bonus-point try from yet another pick and go.

Josh Hodge took over kicking duties and struck the conversion between the posts for a 22-13 half-time lead, but the Falcons began the second half with gusto.

Connon’s cross-field kick to Stevenson almost created a scoring opportunity in the opening exchanges, and a barnstorming maul got them to within ten metres of the Exeter try-line in driving Devon rain

Connon’s third penalty cut the Chiefs’ advantage to six when they were blown for not-ten at a quick tap from Sam Stuart, and that remained the margin as Hodge hit the post with an attempted reply for the home side.

Cameron Hutchison made a big line-break with his first carry after coming on in the Newcastle midfield around the hour mark, but his side ended with 14 men when Bryan Byrne was sin-binned for killing a ruck near his own line.

Hodge slotted the resulting penalty to leave Newcastle outside of bonus point range, with Connon’s late penalty miss sealing the outcome.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Tom Penny, 12 Rory Jennings (Cameron Hutchison, 61), 11 Ben Stevenson (Matias Moroni, 42), 10 Brett Connon, 9 Sam Stuart (Ben Douglas, 77); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Phil Brantingham, 43), 2 Jamie Blamire (Bryan Byrne, 70), 3 Eduardo Bello (Richard Palframan, 43), 4 Philip van der Walt (John Kelly, 70), 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 6 Freddie Lockwood (Sam Cross, 61), 7 Guy Pepper, 8 Callum Chick (captain).

Scorers – Tries: Ben Stevenson. Conversions: Brett Connon. Penalties: Brett Connon 3.

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Josh Hodge, 14 Dan John, 13 Zack Wimbush, 12 Joe Hawkins (Will Rigg, 66), 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Will Becconsall (Stu Townsend, 59); 1 Scott Sio (Danny Southworth, 64), 2 Jack Yeandle (captain, Dan Frost,74), 3 Josh Iosefa-Scott (Marcus Street, 21), 4 Rusi Tuima (Jack Dunne, 74), 5 Lewis Pearson, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 7 Richard Capstick, 8 Greg Fisilau (Ross Vintcent,59).

Scorers – Tries: Greg Fisilau, Zack Wimbush, Scott Sio, Rusi Tuima. Conversions: Josh Hodge. Penalties: Josh Hodge.

Referee: Jack Makepeace. Attendance: 11,490.

Photos c/o Pinnacle Photo Agency