Exeter Chiefs set up a Premiership final clash with Saracens next weekend at Twickenham as they beat Newcastle Falcons 36-5 at Sandy Park.
Rugby’s greatest modern story of upward trajectory continues after Exeter won their third successive Premiership home semi-final to give themselves a chance of retaining their crown.
A very different atmosphere and challenge faced Exeter at Sandy Park with overachieving Newcastle, rather than all conquering Saracens, making the trip to Devon.
Newcastle brought with them newly anointed Premiership Player of the Year Vereniki Goneva but his effect on the game varied from minimal to non-existent such was the hosts’ dominance.
Playing into the wind during the opening 40, Exeter restricted their opponents to 20% possession as Joe Simmonds kicked 11 of their 16 points; Aussie Nic White sniping from close range provided the only five-pointer of the half.
It was Simmonds’ brother, Sam, who signalled his arrival in this very game a year ago but it was Joe’s boot that provided the only telling blows in a 30-minute war of attrition at Sandy Park. Exeter stuck to their high phase principles without clocking up too many metres.
It wasn’t until the half was almost over that White finally crossed the whitewash. His compatriot Lachie Turner ran through Newcastle’s drift defence before eventually being brought down. Several phases occurred via the Exeter forwards before the scrum-half showed and went under the posts.
16-0 at half-time but there were more telling stats to sum up the game, with visiting wing Sinoti Sinoti failing to carry once in 40 minutes – his first involvement coming within seconds of the second period and ended in an Exeter penalty. If anything summed up the afternoon for Dean Richards’ side, it was that.
Simmonds’ right boot resulted in the first points after the restart, pushing it out to 19-0. The Devon sun may have been shining, but it certainly wasn’t doing so on Newcastle.
Exeter boss Rob Baxter dismissed the favourites tag pre-match, but they have evolved over the past two years; no longer overawed by the occasion and instead accustomed to what is required.
Their 13 in particular showcased that this Exeter side have far more to their arsenal than just the forward power they were once renowned for. Henry Slade was a standout in several top class performances.
With almost three quarters of the contest gone Newcastle did bother the scoreboard. Alex Tait, on for full-back Simon Hammersley, cut a lovely line with the Falcons five metres out to dot down. Toby Flood’s conversion was charged down by Turner.
If Tait’s try opened the door slightly for the visitors then Olly Woodburn’s effort minutes later slammed it shut with authority. White, running with the ball, spotted a mismatch on the blindside and allowed Woodburn to narrowly avoid the touchline to score.
The departing Thomas Waldrom appeared from the bench for the final quarter of an hour to rapturous applause. The New Zealander is returning home at the season’s conclusion but his folk hero status is already confirmed.
It was his initial break that ended the Exeter day on a high. The whole of Sandy Park begged him to go over but instead he offloaded to the onrushing Don Armand to finish the job.
Exeter, in truth, didn’t need to be anywhere near their best to reach Twickenham but they got the job done. Saracens’ performance a few hours earlier looked ominous but if there’s anyone in the land who can halt the juggernaut it is the Chiefs. They’ve already beaten them twice this year; a third would mean Premiership title number two.