Newcastle held on to end Aviva Premiership pace-setters Exeter’s seven-match unbeaten league run with a 28-20 victory at Kingston Park.
Then Champions may have been missing key players including injured England trio Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams (concussion) but they still had enough firepower to almost sink the Falcons in a frantic finish – in which they came back from 25-3 down to trail 25-20 – before conceding a last-minute Joel Hodgson penalty.
The Falcons led 25-3 at half-time with three tries in the bag from Sinoti Sinoti, Vereniki Goneva and Kyle Cooper, two of them in the space of three minutes.
Newcastle were on the board inside three minutes when Josh Matavesi poked a low kick to the corner and Exeter had to play it such was the pace of the chase and Phil Dollman was caught in front of his own posts by Will Welch, while Toby Flood kicked the resulting penalty.
Gareth Steenson levelled in the 11th minute following Gary Graham’s high tackle on Alec Hepburn but it was only a prelude to a burst of pressure from the Falcons with Matavesi and Goneva putting the Chiefs under stress.
Newcastle were soon under some pressure themselves and their tackling had to be exemplary and when Sean Robinson engineered a superb turnover on halfway, scrum-half Micky Young darted down the blindside to send Sinoti surging away to beat James Short to the corner for a 23rd-minute try.
Three minutes later, Goneva intercepted Jack Yeandle’s attempted pop pass on halfway and galloped in for his eighth try of the season.
Hodgson, on for Flood who was undergoing a head injury assessment, kicked the conversion and then added a 31st-minute penalty following a high tackle to give his side an 18-3 lead.
A minute before the break, the home side pounced again with a line out in the corner as a series of controlled and patient pick and drives ended with Cooper’s try, while Hodgson converted for a 25-3 half-time lead.
Five minutes into the second half, Sam Simmonds caught Newcastle asleep with a quickly-taken free-kick to drive over for Exeter’s first try as Stenson hit the post with the conversion.
Another frenetic Sinoti run had the visitors on the back foot but a knock on followed by a scrum penalty gave the Chiefs an escape route as they brought on substitutes Henry Slade and Thomas Waldrom.
Exeter immediately stepped up the pace but the Falcons’ tackling was equal to the pressure until the 67th minute when it seemed the hosts had survived a five-metre scrum – but Young’s fly hack went straight to Woodburn.
Hodgson’s crucial turnover penalty deep in his own 22 with five minutes left gave Newcastle hope but they conceded a scrum with two minutes left and Toby Salmon was driven over as Steenson converted to pull the scores back to 25-20.
But Mark Wilson’s equally-crucial turnover penalty 30 metres out allowed Hodgson to land a goal with the last kick of the game to leave Exeter going home empty handed.
What they said
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards: “The first half was superb, the second half we dogged it out and I thought the boys were magnificent – they just never gave up and put their bodies on the line time and time again.”
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter: “There were too many individual moments where we didn’t do the business, and that’s not to take anything away from Newcastle – the result is a great credit to them.”