Exeter maintain their pursuit of Saracens with gritty win
Exeter kept the heat on Saracens at the top of the Aviva Premiership with a bonus-point 32-17 victory but they were given a real test at Sandy Park by Newcastle.
Tries from Thomas Waldrom, Phil Dollman, Sam Hill and Elvis Taione, plus two penalties and three conversions by fly-half Gareth Steenson saw the Chiefs home.
Battling Newcastle crossed via Sonatane Takulua and Nili Latu while stand-off Mike Delany added a penalty and two conversions.
By hook or by crook, Newcastle kept themselves in the match at half-time, with just solitary penalties for Steenson and Delany to trouble the scorers.
The Chiefs had the vast majority of territory and possession yet their handling errors and some bone-crunching defence from the opposition kept them out.
Exeter could have crossed for at least a three tries after Steenson opened their account following a deliberate knock-on just inside the Newcastle 22.
Newcastle number eight and Tonga international Latu was lucky not to spend 10 minutes in the sin-bin after a late tackle on Steenson.
And referee Craig Maxwell-Keys gave the Falcons the benefit of the doubt twice, and talked to skipper Will Welch, as rucks inside their five metre area were deliberately pulled down.
Two more knock-ons inside the Falcons 22 frustrated Exeter and, rightly for their brave defence, Delany levelled the score with a 25-metre penalty 10 minutes before the break.
A dull game to that point was completely turned on its' head within 20 minutes of the second period.
The match came to life with a bang as Exeter flanker Julian Salvi broke clear and was looking to score when Falcons wing Giovanbattista Vendetti put in a brilliant try-saving tackle.
That moment of excellence was followed by a horrendous blunder as the ball ran loose over the Falcons' line.
A hurried kick from Chris Harris fell directly into the hands of Waldrom who jogged over easily under the posts for a converted try.
But the Falcons struck back with a tremendous opportunist converted touchdown.
Latu fed Takulua from a maul 10 metres out and the scrum-half sauntered through a gap to score.
Mintues later, Exeter were ahead again as Dollman finished off a cracking drive down the middle to run under the posts and make the extras easy.
Newcastle again hit back. Exeter desperately defended their line from a series of rucks but Latu found a gap near the uprights to dive in from a metre, with Delany's conversion levelling things again.
The Chiefs turned up the heat again and, when the Falcons pulled down a maul on their own line, Welch was shown the yellow card.
It was nip and tuck stuff and the Falcons did well to keep Exeter out, being a man down, but an infringement 25 metres out saw Steenson kick another penalty.
And, with five minutes left, Hill put Exeter within touching distance of an 11th Premiership victory with his first try of the season.
Taione then just touched down under a pile of bodies at the end for the bonus-point try.