Newcastle Falcons felt the full force of Gallagher Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs on Sunday as the hosts claimed all five points.
The Falcons trailed 31-3 at half-time and found themselves trailing after just three minutes when Sam Skinner scored a converted try from a catch-and-drive in the right corner.
But the visitors kept their heads high and cut the gap by three points just four minutes later when red-zone pressure was rewarded by a simple penalty for Toby Flood from in front of the posts on the Chiefs’ 22.
Sheer physicality from the Falcons’ defence repelled Exeter’s attack when the Chiefs kicked another penalty to the corner, the visitors’ scrum also standing up well to the challenge.
It took the champions until the 20-minute mark to improve on their tally, again turning to the driving maul in the right corner, where single-season try-scoring record holder Sam Simmonds grounded the ball.
The Chiefs had the taste for the mauling game, but a superb maul turnover from Gary Graham denied them a third try from the catch-and-drive when they kicked another penalty to the corner on 24 minutes.
Newcastle’s task was made even more difficult when John Hardie was sent to the sin bin just before the half-hour for a high tackle inside his own 22, the Chiefs having a second try for Sam Simmonds chalked off for obstruction at a maul breakout in the left corner.
They did not have long to wait, however, with Welsh wing Alex Cuthbert hitting a straightening midfield line from 40 metres out to race between the posts – Joe Simmonds adding the conversion.
The home side had the four-try bonus point on 35 minutes when slick hands along the line and a grubber to the left corner allowed England centre Henry Slade to collect the bouncing ball for an unconverted score.
There was still time for one more try before the interval, when a quickly-tapped penalty enabled Jacques Vermeulen to score from a close-range ruck in the right corner, Joe Simmonds adding the extras for a 31-3 interval advantage.
Exeter’s dominance continued after the break when Vermeulen scored his second try down the left from a close-range pick and go, and they hit the half-century inside an hour when Henry Slade and Joe Simmonds both dotted down.
Dave Ewers continued the punishment on 65 minutes when he scored on a short crash-ball line, and he was followed swiftly by Stuart Hogg as the Lions full-back grounded in the left corner following off-the-top line-out ball and a quick transfer through the hands.
Replacement Harvey Skinner was next over when he collected an offload from 5m out, with Tom Flaherty completing the scoring two minutes from time.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Joel Hodgson, 14 Alex Tait, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Chidera Obonna (Zach Kerr, 63), 10 Toby Flood (captain, Will Haydon-Wood, 57), 9 Sam Stuart (Louis Schreuder, 57); 1 Kyle Cooper (Sam Lockwood, 48), 2 Robbie Smith (Charlie Maddison, 48), 3 Rodney Ah You (Mark Tampin, 48), 4 Toby Salmon, 5 Rob Farrar, 6 Gary Graham, 7 John Hardie (Will Montgomery, 65), 8 Carl Fearns (Tom Marshall, 47).
Scorers – Penalties: Toby Flood.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Facundo Cordero, 14 Alex Cuthbert (Stuart Hogg, 47), 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto (Harvey Skinner, 65), 11 Tom O’flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder (Stu Townsend, 54); 1 Alec Hepburn (Ben Moon, 50), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jack Yeandle, 40), 3 Harry Williams (Tomas Francis, 50-65), 4 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Sam Skinner (Jonny Hill, 50), 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 8 Sam Simmonds.
Scorers – Tries: Sam Skinner, Sam Simmonds, Alex Cuthbert, Henry Slade 2, Jacques Vermeulen 2, Joe Simmonds, Dave Ewers, Stuart Hogg, Harvey Skinner, Tom O'Flaherty. Conversions: Joe Simmonds 7.
Referee: Andrew Jackson.
Cordero, Cuthbert, Slade, Devoto, O'Flaherty, Simmonds, Maunder, Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Kirsten, Skinner, Ewers, Vermeulen, Simmonds
Replacements Yeandle, Moon, Francis, Hill, Lonsdale, Townsend, Skinner, Hogg
Hodgson, Tait, Wacokecoke, Lucock, Obonna, Flood, Stuart, Cooper, Smith, Ah You, Salmon, Farrar, Graham, Hardie, Fearns
Replacements Maddison, Lockwood, Tampin, Montgomery, Marshall, Schreuder, Haydon-Wood, Kerr
referee: Andrew Jackson
assistant: Gareth Holsgrove
assistant: Phil Watters
TMO: Geoff Warren