Exeter Chiefs overturned a 14-point deficit to beat Newcastle Falcons 20-17 in the Anglo-Welsh cup semi-final at Sandy Park on Sunday, in an excellent encounter.
Following an error-ridden first-half from the domestic Champions, alongside some clinical and slick finishing from the Falcons in attack, Exeter turned the tables emphatically on their opponents in the second period.
A try and two nerveless penalties through the posts from man-of-the-match Joe Simmonds sends Exeter to a fourth consecutive Anglo-Welsh Cup final in a row – a South-West derby against Bath on Sunday at Kingsholm in Gloucester.
On a windy afternoon at Sandy Park, Exeter, playing in their pink strip, started off much the better side, with ex-Argentinian international Santiago Cordero exploiting a gap in the Newcastle defence to set up scrum-half Stu Townsend to score under the posts after three minutes.
Newcastle, the most in-form team in the Premiership as they push for a top 4 spot, responded well though, and whilst Exeter failed to add to their points tally for the rest of the half, the Falcons slowly but surely crept their way back into the match. Following a penalty from ex-England star Toby Flood in the 12th minute, a number of cheap, sloppy penalties from Exeter were eventually punished by Newcastle, with hooker Kyle Cooper reaping the rewards after Exeter failed to stop Newcastle’s driving maul set piece.
It was to get worse for Exeter in the 32nd minute, when a lost lineout led to the visitors’ second try. A bulldozing break from number 8 Nili Latu and impressive hands from the Falcons’ backs sent Simon Hammersley over, and put Newcastle 17-7 up at the break.
“From then on in, nervous mistakes and problems created by the wind regarding open-play kicking made for a frantic last quarter of the game”
However, in the second-half, the numerous knock-ons and penalties that summed up Exeter’s unimpressive first-half display were eradicated. At scrum time, Exeter were dominant all afternoon, and a prolonged period of early second-half pressure from the Chiefs’ pack eventually led to fly-half Joe Simmonds – younger brother of England international Sam Simmonds – sidestepping his way over the try line in the 50th minute.
From then on in, nervous mistakes and problems created by the wind regarding open-play kicking made for a frantic last quarter of the game. Another penalty conceded by Newcastle at scrum-time was capitalised by Simmonds, which was faultless all afternoon, to level up the scores.
In the last 10 minutes, both sides had their chances. Toby Flood didn’t have the distance from 32m out, but Simmonds won it for Exeter in the 77th minute, slotting it down the middle after Newcastle were penalised for not rolling away at a ruck. The drama wasn’t over though.
Newcastle won the ball back from the restart, and earned a penalty about 35m out to the left of the posts. Replacement Joel Hodgson opted to kick for the posts, with the opportunity to force extra-time, but his kick fell just short, cueing bedlam amongst the rapturous home crowd.
For Newcastle, given their superior first-half showing, it was an opportunity missed. For Exeter, it is a chance to add more silverware to their collection following their Premiership title win last season, and their 2014 Anglo-Welsh triumph against Northampton Saints.
Exeter: Cordero; O’Flaherty, Whitten, Devoto, Short; Simmonds, Townsend; Low, Innard, Holmes, Lees, van der Sluys, Dennis, Salvi, Kvesic
Subs: Davis, Kenny, Owlett, Salmon, Horstmann, Chudley, Morley, Hendrickson
Newcastle: Hammersley; Goneva, Mermoz, Matavesi, Sinoti; Flood, Takulua; Lockwood, Cooper, Welsh, Witty, Robinson, Hogg, Welch, Latu
Subs: Socino, Vickers, Wilson, Green, Burrows, Young Hodgson, Harris
Referee: Karl Dickson