By Ali Stokes
Exeter Chiefs have secured their winning run during the early stages of the 2018/19 Premiership season, grinding out a 17-14 victory over a resilient Newcastle Falcons side.
England number eight and man of the match Sam Simmonds crossed for a brace of scores during the Chiefs' victory, joined by fellow Exeter backrow Matt Kvesic on the visiting side's scoresheet.
It was, however, the hosts that struck the first blow at Kingston Park, with up and coming Newcastle wing Zach Kibirige, crossing the Chiefs' line in just the second minute of the evening's fixture.
Kibirige's try came immediately following a mistake from Newcastle standoff Toby Flood, with the 60-times-capped former England international's pass finding nothing but the artificial surface before bouncing up into the hands of inside centre Johnny Williams.
Williams' opposite man, Ian Whitten, found himself in no man's land after half pouncing on the bouncing ball and half holding his defensive line. The gap left vacant following Whitten's indecision saw Williams charge between Exeter's centres, getting the offload away to Kibirige on an intuitive supporting line.
Despite this exciting early score, Exeter went about their usual business just four minutes later, when Simmonds crossed for the first of his evening scores with a short-range effort.
After a number of errors from either side, Exeter captain Don Armand denied Newcastle the chance to retake their early lead and break the 7-7 deadlock, intelligently reading the Falcons' short lineout play and going one step further to steal the ball and allow Exeter the chance to escape the danger of an opposition lineout five metres from their line.
A reactionary stray arm from Flood following a Kvesic step saw referee Andrew Jackson hand Exeter the penalty on the half-hour mark.
A familiar left booted Henry Slade corner kick would see Simmonds cross for his second off the back of the almost unstoppable Exeter maul, doubling the visitors lead.
A flood penalty partially redeemed himself by slotting a 38th-minute penalty, reducing Exeter's half-time lead to just the four points.
Dean Richards' Falcons doubled down on their errors in the first 40 minutes, with another lost lineout cropping up just 60 seconds into the second half. An issue compounded by another Newcastle penalty after tighthead prop Logovi'i Mulipola was penalised for a late hit on Chiefs' fly-half Joe Simmonds.
Joe Simmonds then went on to slot the first penalty of Exeter's season after opposing openside flanker Gary Graham was penalised for a tip tackle on try-scorer Kvesic, returning Exeter's lead to a full seven points.
A spell of composed, patient possession from the Falcons followed Graham's indiscretion, with Johnny Williams crossing for the first try of his Newcastle career, receiving a well-executed pass from debutant winger Tom Arscott while under significant pressure from Chiefs' defenders.
Following his equalising conversion, Flood was handed a 64th-minute yellow card for hands in the ruck whilst defending Falcons' try line. With the 33-year-old already off the pitch and headed down the tunnel for a HIA (head injury assessment) by the time the adjudicators came to their decision, reserve fly-half Joel Hodgson was ordered to return to the sidelines after preparing to make his first appearance of the evening.
Exeter capitalised on Newcastle's one-man disadvantage by sending Kvesic over for the Chiefs' third and final score of the evening, seeing substitute fly-half and club stalwart Gareth Steenson split the uprights and once again secure a seven-point lead with thirteen minutes left on the clock.
Neither side managed to attain additional points during the final quarter of an hour, with Exeter claiming their first victory of the season that didn't include a try-bonus point after struggling to breakdown a stout Newcastle defence in the same manner they dispatched Leicester Tigers, Wasps and Sale Sharks earlier this season.
A losing bonus point and the restriction of Exeter's bonus point score will be among the positives for Falcons' boss Richards to take away from the Friday evening fixture, voicing his displeasure towards Jackson's refereeing during his post-match interview with BT Sport.
Exeter continue to hold their place at the top of the table before the rest of the weekend's fixtures resolve, holding steady at 19 points, closely tailed by current Champions Saracens on 15 points and Gloucester on 12 points with a game in hand.
Tries: Zach Kibirige (2), Johnny Williams (53)
Conversions: Toby Flood (3, 54)
Penalties: Toby Flood (38)
Tries: Sam Simmonds (6, 33), Matt Kvesic (66)
Conversions: Joe Simmonds (7, 34), Gareth Steenson (67)
Penalties: Joe Simmonds (43)
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