Exeter Chiefs ended a run of four consecutive league defeats with a convincing 46-17 win over Newcastle Falcons to move up to third place in the Aviva Premiership at Sandy Park on Saturday afternoon.
With England having earlier dispatched Italy by a similar margin, the Chiefs came into the game determined to make up for a shock loss against the Falcons away back in October. Buoyed by the return of England hopefuls Henry Slade and Jack Nowell, Exeter were rampant from the outset, wracking up four first half tries to secure the bonus point and race into a 32-3 lead before the interval.
Falcons responded well in the second half, with tries from Ruki Tipuna and Will Welsh, but the Chiefs eased home with Phil Dollman and Haydn Thomas both getting on the scoresheet, giving Exeter their fourth win in five games in all competitions.
Head Coach Rob Baxter named a strong starting XV, after having rotated the side in recent European and Cup fixtures, with Slade and Nowell going straight into the side after returning from duty with England reserves.
Indeed, it was Slade who opened the scoring for the home side after just two minutes, slotting home a penalty after the away side were penalised for offside. The former university student further enhanced his reputation with a stellar display infront of the 7,218 capacity crowd at Sandy Park, kicking 14 points over the course of the game, as well as scoring a try.
Not long after Slade had put the Chiefs infront, they scored their first try of the afternoon, with winger Ian Whitten breaking down the right before quick interplay between Thomas Waldrom, Will Chudley and Slade allowed Nowell to crash over the line. Slade duly converted the kick, and the Chiefs were 10-0 up inside 15 minutes.
Some careless play inside their own 22 saw the Chiefs advantage reduced to seven points, as they were penalised for failing to roll away. Falcons’ number ten Tom Catterick converted the ensuing penalty with ease.
However, this was as good as it got for the away side in the first half, and within five minutes Slade had restored the Chiefs’ ten point advantage with a penalty. Shortly after he was on the scoresheet again, this time with a try, picking up from a poor lineout by Luke Cowan-Dickie and driving over the line. Unfortunately, the Chiefs number ten’s kick was charged down, leaving the score at 18-3 with just over ten minutes left in the half.
The Chiefs refused to let up, dominating both at the scrum and in possession. Sustained pressure in the opposition half led to a penalty try being awarded, which Slade converted to further increase the gap between the two sides.
The hosts wrapped up the bonus points with their fourth try shortly before halftime. Forward Damian Welsh leapt highest at the lineout, before Ben Moon and Sam Hill drove forwards, enabling Waldrom to perform the simple task of forcing the ball over the line from a matter of yards. After a brief pause to consult the TMO, the ref awarded the try and Slade converted to give the Chiefs a resounding 32-3 half-time lead.
Falcons rung the changes at half-time, bringing on Alex Tait, Dom Barrow and Scott Wilson, as Alesana Tuilagi, Juan Pablo Orlandi and Calum Green made way. The changes appeared to have the desired impact, as the away side stemmed the tide of Exeter attacks, with the score remaining at 32-3 for over 15 minutes of the second half.
The Chiefs conceded their first try of the afternoon shortly after Cowan-Dickie, Moon and Chudley departed proceedings. A sloppy attempt at a kicked clearance from replacement Thomas gifted scrum-half Tipuna a simple try. Catterick made light work of the conversion to reduce the deficit to 22 points.
Unfortunately for the away side, Exeter responded brilliantly to conceding, scoring two quick-fire tries to further extend their lead. The first came from full-back Dollman, who dived over the line after some excellent interchanges and slick passing from the Chiefs. Slade converted what were to be his last points of the afternoon, making way for Gareth Steenson with just under 20 minutes left.
Steenson was quickly involved in proceedings, converting after Thomas had atoned for his earlier error by scoring the Chiefs final try of the afternoon.
The pace of the game slowed considerably going into the final ten minutes, with the home side having to finish the game with 14 men after Dollman departed with a leg injury. The Chiefs, however, were still very much in control of proceedings, but conceded a late try after some slick passing from the Falcons led to skipper Welsh scoring in the last play of the game. Catterick converted and the ref blew the final whistle, with the Chiefs running out 46-17 winners.
This result continues the Falcon’s poor run of form at Sandy Park, having never won at the stadium in four attempts. For the Chiefs, however, this was an important victory that lifts them back into contention at the business end of the table after some disappointing recent league results. They face Harlequins next weekend away from home, and will be hoping to build on this performance with another victory.