Newcastle Falcons took their first bonus point of the season on Sunday, having lost narrowly to European and Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs.
A freezing cold afternoon at Kingston Park Stadium was never going to be conducive to open, flowing rugby, but their Falcons hung in against their much-heralded opponents to claim a point in defeat.
Newcastle began the brighter of the two teams, stealing an Exeter line-out and running it out of their own 22 to earn the field position which eventually provided the first points of the afternoon.
That came via a Joel Hodgson penalty from 40 metres out on the left, George McGuigan and Logovi’i Mulipola among the willing carriers getting them over the gain line in a promising-looking start.
The Chiefs grew into the game and grabbed the lead on 16 minutes, Sam Simmonds scoring from the base of a five-metre scrum in the left corner before younger brother Joe slotted the touchline conversion.
The Falcons bit back almost instantly when a second Hodgson penalty, this time from 35 metres out in front, punished an illegal hit by ex-Newcastle lock Will Witty, who had tackled McGuigan without the ball.
Witty almost brought the second Chiefs try of the day with a burst down the right, Gareth Owen producing a try-saving tackle in the corner, but they reached double figures on the half-hour when Joe Simmonds sent over a penalty from 25 metres out in front.
The Falcons refused to lie down and ended the half with a spell of territory and possession, frustratingly failing to make it count on the scoreboard as a pair of close-range penalties were kept in hand without return.
That left Exeter 10-6 up at the interval, Newcastle beginning the second half with no shortage of aggression as they looked to find an in-road.
A crucial jackal penalty win from Marco Fuser thwarted a sustained red-zone incursion from the champions as Newcastle absorbed pressure, but the second try arrived on 52 minutes when a charged-down box kick was flung wide to Alex Cuthbert, the Welsh winger running it in to the right corner.
Newcastle responded when Jamie Blamire’s jackal penalty win helped enable the field position which saw a third Hodgson penalty bisecting the uprights, Sam Simmonds having flown in from the side of a ruck 25 metres out.
Exeter sniffed a third try on 68 minutes when they kicked a penalty to the right corner, where superb counter-mauling from the Falcons turned over possession, and despite the best efforts of both teams there were to be no further scores.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Joel Hodgson, 14 George Wacokecoke, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Gareth Owen 11 Ben Stevenson (Cooper Vuna, 40), 10 Brett Connon (Alex Tait, 66), 9 Louis Schreuder (Sam Stuart, 56); 1 Trevor Davison (Kyle Cooper, 60), 2 George McGuigan (Jamie Blamire, 40), 3 Logovi’i Mulipola (Mark Tampin, 71), 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Marco Fuser (Darren Barry, 66), 6 Sean Robinson (captain), 7 John Hardie (Connor Collett, 66), 8 Philip van der Walt.
Scorers – Penalties: Joel Hodgson 3.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Facundo Cordero (Harvey Skinner, 63), 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Jack Maunder (Stu Townsend, 71); 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain, Jack Innard, 71), 3 Marcus Street, 4 Will Witty (Don Armand, 52), 5 Sam Skinner, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Richard Capstick (Sean Lonsdale, 73), 8 Sam Simmonds.
Scorers – Tries: Sam Simmonds, Alex Cuthbert. Conversions: Joe Simmonds. Penalties: Joe Simmonds.
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe.
Hodgson, Wacokecoke, Orlando, Owen, Stevenson, Connon, Schreuder, Davison, McGuigan, Mulipola, Peterson, Fuser, Robinson, Hardie, Van Der Walt
Replacements Blamire, Cooper, Tampin, Barry, Collett, Stuart, Tait, Vuna
Cordero, Cuthbert, Whitten, Devoto, O'Flaherty, Simmonds, Maunder, Hepburn, Yeandle, Street, Witty, Skinner, Ewers, Capstick, Simmonds
Replacements Innard, Kenny, van Dyk, Armand, Lonsdale, Townsend, Skinner, Hendrickson
referee: Anthony Woodthorpe
assistant: Jack Makepeace
assistant: Peter Allan
TMO: Trevor Fisher