Yel­low cards cost New­cas­tle against Ex­eter pre­ci­sion

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Aviva Premiership - Daniel Schofield at Sandy Park

It is a mark of New­cas­tle Fal­cons’ ris­ing as­pi­ra­tions that Dean Richards, their di­rec­tor of rugby, can view a bonus point at Sandy Park with the type of ex­pres­sion he would nor­mally re­serve for an all-ve­gan menu.

Ex­eter Chiefs are un­beaten on home soil in 12 months and al­though New­cas­tle were never in a real po­si­tion to win the game, they did match the cham­pi­ons with four tries apiece.

The dif­fer­ence was one of pre­ci­sion. Gareth Steen­son, the arch-sur­veyor of this pe­cu­liar mi­cro­cli­mate, kicked all his shots at goal while New­cas­tle’s Juan Pablo So­cino and DTH van Der Merwe were both yel­low-carded at cru­cial junc­tures in the sec­ond half.

There was con­cern for Jack Now­ell, who de­parted in the 20th minute with blood flow­ing from a cut be­low his left eye which the Ex­eter and Eng­land wing sus­tained at­tempt­ing to tackle Chris Har­ris. He was taken to hospi­tal last night, but if Ed­die Jones, the Eng­land head coach, faces a ner­vous wait on his con­di­tion he would have re­ceived a far more pos­i­tive re­port on No8 Sam Sim­monds.

With Billy Vu­nipola ruled out of the au­tumn internationals and Nathan Hughes nurs­ing a dead leg, No8 is fast be­com­ing a prob­lem po­si­tion.

Sim­monds is in the mould of nei­ther man, weigh­ing at least two stones less. Yet, what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed, as he demon­strated in scor­ing a glo­ri­ous in­di­vid­ual try in which he burnt Van Der Merwe, a wing, on the out­side.

That takes his tally to five tries in five games, and he must surely be on the radar of the Eng­land head coach. “He is go­ing well, there’s no deny­ing that,” Rob Hunter, the Ex­eter for­wards coach, said. “He is do­ing the sim­ple things re­ally well, and he is en­joy­ing him­self, which is a key fac­tor.

“Ev­ery time he touches the ball, you feel ev­ery­one gasp wait­ing to see what he does.”

Nei­ther team were at their sparkling best, but when it mat­tered, Ex­eter found a way to keep New­cas­tle at arm’s length and their bonus-point vic­tory now lifts to them the top of the ta­ble.

That was the po­si­tion that New­cas­tle oc­cu­pied last week, but just to be in the top four head­ing into the Euro­pean round of fix­tures is a glo­ri­ous re­turn for a team with one of the small­est bud­gets – even if Richards strug­gled to see it that way.

“We stressed our­selves out by not stick­ing to script and go­ing off-piste,” he said. “Had we not done that, we prob­a­bly would not have gone down to 14 men twice.

“We are im­prov­ing week in, week out, but it was al­most a case of three steps for­ward and one back to­day. I would have taken four wins out of six, but the boys are frus­trated by the per­for­mance to­day.

“I am happy, but there is far more to do and a lot of hard work to put in.”

There was an im­me­di­ate demon­stra­tion of New­cas­tle’s new-found con­fi­dence when they turned down a shot at goal for a kick to the cor­ner.

Do­ing a more than pass­able im­pres­sion of the Chiefs, New­cas­tle pa­tiently re­cy­cled pos­ses­sion, but So­cino was ad­judged to have knocked on in the process of crash­ing over the line.

The Chiefs’ style is of­ten copied but rarely bet­tered as they set about show­ing New­cas­tle ex­actly how to fin­ish those type of op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Once Sam Skin­ner claimed a closerange line-out, the Chiefs were in busi­ness. Nic White made the ini­tial snipe, and sev­eral phases later, the Aus­tralia scrum-half found the open­ing he needed for a close-range try. Steen­son con­verted and added a penalty to put the Chiefs 10-0 ahead.

Of course, there is more to Ex­eter than pick and goes. Their sec­ond score was a

sim­ple plan, won­der­fully ex­e­cuted. White was fed with line-out ball off the top and ex- changed passes with Sim­monds be­fore crab­bing side­ways un­til Lachie Turner ap­peared roar­ing down the blind­side. How­ever, it was their third try that will fea­ture most promi­nently on the high­lights pack­ages. Ex­eter con­structed an over­lap on the left, where Sim­monds left Van Der Merwe for dead. With Olly Wood­burn out­side him, the No8 in­stead opted to step in­side past Sonatane Taku­lua and Alex Tait and un­der the posts.

New­cas­tle were al­ready on the score­board by that point, al­beit with a help­ing hand from Trevor Fisher, the tele­vi­sion match of­fi­cial.

This time their pol­icy of kick­ing to the cor­ner paid div­i­dends as a maul was formed. Will Welch, the im­pres­sive cap­tain, tried to force his way over from inches. Re­plays seemed to show that the ball was held up by a stray leg, but Fisher thought oth­er­wise.

Sim­monds’s try on 35 min­utes re­stored Ex­eter’s ad­van­tage, but just as the hosts were vi­su­al­is­ing their half­time or­anges, New­cas­tle grabbed a sec­ond score.

White’s loose box-kick was seized upon by flanker Mark Wil­son. He im­me­di­ately spot­ted num­bers out wide, and his long pass al­lowed Vereniki Goneva to put So­cino away. Taku­lua, how­ever, missed his sec­ond straight con­ver­sion to leave New­cas­tle 24-10 adrift at the break.

Any pats on the back that So­cino re­ceived for his try would have been in­stantly re­scinded when he was sin-binned early in the sec­ond half for lead­ing with his el­bow. Steen­son kicked the re­sult­ing penalty, but Ex­eter failed to cap­i­talise fur­ther upon their man ad­van­tage.

With their num­bers re­stored and fly­half Toby Flood join­ing the fray for his sec­ond de­but at the club, New­cas­tle scored their third try ap­proach­ing the hour mark. Flood was in­volved in the build-up, but the credit be­longs exclusively to full-back Alex Tait for his won­der­ful arc­ing run.

The gap was down to 10 points and the first signs of nerves started ap­pear­ing around Sandy Park. They were quickly set­tled as Ex­eter went back to what they do best. The out­stand­ing Don Ar­mand claimed a line-out and the maul started mo­tor­ing at a rate of knots. Al­though Van Der Merwe man­aged to hold the ball up, he did so by en­ter­ing the maul at the side, re­sult­ing in a penalty try and a yel­low card. The game lost its shape af­ter that, but Goneva reg­is­tered New­cas­tle’s bonus point with four min­utes left af­ter Ex­eter for­got to de­fend the blind side of a scrum.

True grip: Ex­eter’s Henry Slade holds off Nili Latu of New­cas­tle

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