Defending champions Exeter Chiefs thrashed Newcastle Falcons 36-5 at Sandy Park in their Aviva Premiership semi-final on Saturday.
Tries from man-of-the-match Nic White, winger Olly Woodburn and captain Don Armand, alongside some imperious kicking by the impressive Joe Simmonds, were the key moments against an unusually sloppy and lacklustre Newcastle side.
The victory means Exeter will contest their third consecutive Premiership final at Twickenham next week, against a Saracens side who put 57 points past Wasps in Saturday’s other semi-final.
“From the first whistle, Exeter were dominant in possession…”
The 31-point margin was representative of the gulf in class between the two sides. From the first whistle, Exeter were dominant in possession and despite an early bout of Newcastle resilience, the gaps soon opened up. 21-year old Joe Simmonds, getting the nod ahead of club veteran Gareth Steenson, kicked three early penalties as Exeter converted their pressure into points.
The efficiency of Exeter’s performance throughout the first-half was displayed in their 92% possession, and making of only nine tackles – an astonishing pair of statistics for a game of such magnitude. Although Newcastle were valiant in their defensive efforts, their wastefulness on the odd occasion they got their hands on the ball was uncharacteristic of a side who has defied all the odds in reaching the semi-finals this season.
Regardless of Newcastle’s effort in defence, an Exeter try seemed like an inevitability. A yellow card for deliberately denying a try-scoring opportunity via hands in the ruck by second-row Evan Olmstead, as well as a serious-looking injury to prop Scott Wilson, didn’t help Falcons’ cause. Interestingly though, with two minutes left, it looked like Newcastle might escape with just a 9-0 deficit at half-time. However, Exeter’s persistent pounding of the Newcastle defence soon led to the opening try. A brilliant break by full-back Lachie Turner led scrum-half Nic White to sneakily go over under the posts. Simmonds added the extras, 16-0 at half-time – Newcastle had it all to do.
“…Flood’s consequent conversion was miraculously charged down by Turner, in a moment that left the Sandy Park crowd bouncing in approval.”
In the second period, Newcastle were undoubtedly a better, more purposeful outfit, with cracks suddenly emerging in the Exeter defence. Despite a couple of penalties by Simmonds extending the lead to 22-points, Newcastle got on the board with ex-England international Toby Flood drawing two defenders before setting up substitute Alex Tait to go over the whitewash, with just over 20 minutes to go. And yet, in a moment which not only epitomised Exeter’s determined and dogged performance, but also halted any potential Newcastle momentum, Flood’s consequent conversion was miraculously charged down by Turner, in a moment that left the Sandy Park crowd bouncing in approval.
Indeed, Exeter responded immediately in a fashion befitting of champions and league leaders. Only three minutes after Newcastle had a glimmer of hope, the door was pushed firmly shut, as White out the back of an Exeter scrum in Newcastle’s 22 went blind, to set up Olly Woodburn to finish brilliantly in the corner. Simmonds converted impressively from the touchline, and an Exeter win was then a formality at 29-5.
The last 15 minutes had a testimonial-feel to it. With the result decided, Rob Baxter brought on number 8 Thomas Waldrom for his final appearance for Exeter at Sandy Park. He, alongside Steenson, replaced the Simmonds brothers to a rapturous Sandy Park reception. The game concluded with Tait unforgivably dropping the ball on the try-line, with no one around him, and Waldrom beautifully feeding Armand to go in under the posts to put the icing on the cake on what had been a near-perfect Exeter Chiefs display.
“The win sets up a mouth-watering conclusion to the Premiership season next week…”
Speaking post-match, coach Rob Baxter said, “The manner of our win was very pleasing. We didn’t get frustrated, we never really left the script, and we had a performance which was glued together today.” A similar sentiment was echoed by skipper Don Armand. “To come away with a good victory like that gives us good momentum going into the final next week”, said the flanker.
The win sets up a mouth-watering conclusion to the Premiership season next week, between the top two sides in English rugby over the past few years. Exeter Chiefs v Saracens, at Twickenham, on Saturday 26thMay, 15:00 kick-off – you will not want to miss it.
Exeter: Turner; Nowell, Slade, Hill, Woodburn; J. Simmonds, White; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Francis, Lees, Hill, Ewers, Armand ©, S. Simmonds
Subs: Yeandle, Moon, Holmes, Skinner, Waldrom, Townsend, Steenson, Whitten
Coach: Rob Baxter
Newcastle: Hammersley; Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti; Flood, Young; Lockwood, Cooper, S. Wilson, Green, Olmstead, M. Wilson ©, Graham, Hogg
Subs: S. Socino, Vickers, Wilson, Witty, Latu, Takulua, J. P. Socino, Tait
Coach: Dean Richards
Referee: Matthew Carley