Newcastle Falcons had to make do with a losing bonus point against Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs after a blood-and-thunder contest at Kingston Park Stadium on Friday night.
The hosts were forced into a late change when Alex Tait’s withdrawal 20 minutes before kick-off handed an unexpected start to Zach Kibirige, but the winger flew into his task and powered over for a try just two minutes in when a shimmy on the 22 and some fine acceleration saw him safely to the try-line.
Toby Flood added the simple conversion but within four minutes the Chiefs had drawn level, a patient period of phase play in the Newcastle 22 ending with the TMO awarding a try to Sam Simmonds from a close-range ruck, converted by his younger brother Joe.
Newcastle’s aggressive maul defence was their saviour when the Devon side kicked a penalty to the corner and returned empty-handed, repeated Chiefs penalties in the subsequent few minutes going unrewarded as the wall of black repelled their incessant carries.
Newcastle enjoyed a fleeting attack of their own on 20 minutes when full-back Simon Hammersley broke the Chiefs’ midfield line and sped into the 22, the Falcons winning a penalty in the right corner but losing the line-out as they searched for a second try.
Exeter had fewer issues converting their pressure into points, but they were made to work hard for it on 37 minutes when a maul was driven over in the right corner, Sam Simmonds grounding his second try with brother Joe converting.
Newcastle responded when Flood chipped over a penalty from the 22, reducing the Chiefs’ half-time lead to 14-10, but the margin was back out to seven just four minutes after the resumption when Joe Simmonds stroked home a penalty from similar range.
Exeter were denied a third try thanks after obstruction at a ruck in the left corner, and a resurgent Newcastle side enjoyed a productive period attack which resulted in their second try of the night.
Johnny Williams was the man to ground it in the right corner from an inside pop by Tom Arscott, Flood having looped a pass over the onrushing defence playing a penalty advantage.
The fly-half converted superbly from just inside the right touchline, but Newcastle trailed on 66 minutes when Flood was sin-binned and Matt Kvesic rumbled over from the subsequent catch-and-drive in the left corner.
Gareth Steenson added the conversion, Newcastle battling in search of a reply but finding themselves empty-handed when a succession of line-outs in the right corner passed by without score.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Tom Arscott, 10 Toby Flood (Joel Hodgson, 74), 9 Sonatane Takulua; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan (Santiago Socino, 73), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola (Jack Payne, 66), 4 Calum Green, 5 Will Witty (Tevita Cavubati, 66), 6 Gary Graham (Callum Chick, 66), 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Mark Wilson.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Zach Kibirige, Johnny Williams. Conversions: Toby Flood 2. Penalties: Toby Flood.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 10 Joe Simmonds (Gareth Steenson, 55), 9 Jack Maunder; 1 Ben Moon (Alec Hepburn, 55), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jack Yeandle, 60), 3 Harry Williams, 4 Ollie Atkins (Dave Dennis, 60), 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Don Armand (captain), 7 Matt Kvesic, 8 Sam Simmonds (Dave Ewers, 59).
Exeter scorers - Tries: Sam Simmonds 2, Matt Kvesic. Conversions: Joe Simmonds 2, Gareth Steenson. Penalties: Joe Simmonds.
Referee: Andrew Jackson. Attendance: 7,022.
Hammersley, Kibirige, Harris, Williams, Arscott, Flood, Takulua, Brocklebank, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Witty, Graham, Welch, Wilson
Replacements Socino, Mavinga, Payne, Cavubati, Chick, Stuart, Hodgson, Penny
Dollman, Cordero, Slade, Whitten, Cuthbert, Simmonds, Maunder, Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Atkins, Hill, Armand, Kvesic, Simmonds
Replacements Yeandle, Hepburn, Francis, Dennis, Ewers, Maunder, Steenson, Hill
referee: Andrew Jackson
assistant: Hamish Smales
assistant: John Meredith
TMO: Graham Hughes