Newcastle Falcons drew a season-high crowd to Friday’s ‘Big Night Oot’ at Kingston Park Stadium, but it was Exeter Chiefs who enjoyed the upper hand in an attritional Aviva Premiership encounter.
The Falcons were 14-8 down at the break despite showing plenty of attacking enterprise, the Chiefs stealing an early lead against the run of play when Ollie Devoto intercepted on his own 22 and ran the length.
Gareth Steenson added the conversion, Newcastle fronting up well in the scrum and line-out in a half which saw prolonged bouts of kick-tennis as both teams played for territory.
Dominic Waldouck grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with a foray down the right wing which resulted in a dab to the 22, Mike Delany reducing the Chiefs’ lead to four via a well-struck penalty on 13 minutes.
The Falcons absorbed Exeter’s pressure as the Devonians became an increasing force in the play, a key line-out steal near their own line offering some relief as Michael Young cleared brilliantly to half-way.
The home crowd had further cause for cheer on 27 minutes when Marcus Watson’s counter-attack started the wheels in motion for a move which ended in Scott Lawson scoring down the left, the hooker ploughing over from a close-range ruck after Will Witty’s powerful run.
The one-point lead lasted seven minutes as the visitors kicked a penalty to the corner and saw Thomas Waldrom driven over in the left corner, Steenson converting from wide out for a six-point interval advantage.
The visiting fly-half wasted little time in adding to his team’s haul by sending over a long-range penalty two minutes after the resumption, opposite number Delany responding with a similarly well-struck effort from in excess of 40 metres out.
Alex Tait saved a certain try with a ball-and-all tackle on James Short from a cross-kick, and his forward pack did similar when the visitors kicked two penalties to the corner, only to see their maul held up in front of the posts.
Nonetheless it was the Chiefs enjoying the bulk of the possession as Newcastle were forced into long periods of defensive duty, their task made all the more difficult on 55 minutes when Calum Green was sent to the sin bin and Steenson chipped over the resulting penalty from in front.
That theory was quashed almost straightaway when Watson’s counter, Mark Wilson’s line-break and Alex Tait’s supporting run put the latter away for an unconverted try down the right, narrowing the deficit to four as the home crowd raised the volume.
Exeter responded when James Short broke through a tackle to score his side’s third try in the left corner, the Falcons turning to fit-again Fijian Vereniki Goneva to find some spark in the final quarter.
Delany wiped three off the deficit when a spell of sustained pressure drew a penalty on the Chiefs’ 22, the visitors trying and failing to find a four-try bonus point when they kicked a penalty into touch only to lose the line-out.
Phil Dollman thought he had it when the full-back scythed through on a diagonal course to the right corner, only to knock on in the act of scoring, but former Falcon Will Chudley made no such mistake three minutes from time when he darted over from close range.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti (Vereniki Goneva, 62), 10 Mike Delany (Joel Hodgson, 73), 9 Michael Young; 1 Sam Lockwood (Rob Vickers, 55), 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Jon Welsh (David Wilson, 67), 4 Calum Green (Glen Young, 67), 5 Will Witty, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain, David Nelson, 79), 8 Ally Hogg (Opeti Fonua, 67).
Sin bin: Calum Green (55).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Scott Lawson, Alex Tait. Penalties: Mike Delany 3.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Will Chudley; 1 Ben Moon (Carl Rimmer, 59), 2 Jack Yeandle, 3 Harry Williams (Greg Holmes, 59), 4 Mitch Lees, 5 Jonny Hill (Geoff Parling, 63), 6 Dave Dennis, 7 Kai Horstmann, 8 Thomas Waldrom.
Exeter scorers - Tries: Ollie Devoto, Thomas Waldrom, James Short, Will Chudley. Conversions: Gareth Steenson 3. Penalties: Gareth Steenson 2.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth. Attendance: 8,061.
Tait, Watson, Waldouck, Socino, Sinoti, Delany, Young, Lockwood, Lawson, Welsh, Green, Witty, Wilson, Welch, Hogg
Replacements Nelson, Vickers, Wilson, Fonua, Young, Egerton, Hodgson, Goneva
Dollman, Woodburn, Devoto, Whitten, Short, Steenson, Chudley, Moon, Yeandle, Williams, Lees, Hill, Dennis, Horstmann, Waldrom
Replacements Malton, Rimmer, Holmes, Parling, White, Maunder, Simmonds, Turner
referee: Tim Wigglesworth
assistant: John Meredith
assistant: Gareth Copsey
TMO: Trevor Fisher