Exeter always knew this would be the year of living dangerously. For any promoted team this is the case, hence the fluttering in the dovecotes as Luke Fielden led a final raid by Newcastle which might have snatched the win.
Yet here the Chiefs are, two from three in the Premiership, working their socks off to show how worthy they are of a place in the elite. By their own admission they lacked yesterday the intensity of the first two games, the home win over Gloucester and the hard-fought defeat at Leicester. "It wasn't the slickest of performances but we battled through it," said Ali Hepher, their backs coach.
That is the characteristic of successful sides. Exeter are learning how to transfer their skills to the highest level, typified by Gareth Steenson, the fly-half who kicked 17 points and missed only once. "There's not many kickers in world rugby around 90 per cent, as Gareth is," Hepher said. "The question was always [if] could he bring that consistency to the Premiership and he has."
Newcastle were less than pleased that they gave Steenson so many chances. In the second half they lost the penalty count 8-1, after losing James Hudson, their captain, to a damaged hamstring. With him went much of their line-out ability.
"We need to understand what's going wrong," said Alan Tait, the head coach. He will have plenty of opportunity, since this was the first of five fixtures against Exeter this season. Newcastle scored two tries to Exeter's one and will be distraught that the difference on the scoreboard was the try they virtually presented to Exeter, six minutes after taking the lead with a nicely-worked score of their own. Though the Falcons scrum was under pressure, there was no excuse for Ally Hogg and Mickey Young to leave the ball lying behind the set piece, 10 metres from their own line. That gave Haydn Thomas the chance to send Tom Johnson to the line. It cancelled out the score Young had done so much to create, through support play and then a delayed pass behind a five-metre scrum which allowed Charlie Amesbury to race through, Jimmy Gopperth drawing the defence.
But with the score 10-10 at the break, there was all for Newcastle to play for. Instead Exeter dominated possession through the efficiency of their line-out, Thomas directed the traffic and James Scaysbrook was outstanding in the loose. Steenson put them ahead with two penalties and they had the strength to shrug off Newcastle's second try. Luke Eves went through in midfield and gave Rob Vickerman a run to the line. Gopperth's conversion put the Falcons ahead.
But Exeter set their big men, including Phil Dollman (pictured, left) running and the penalty count mounted. Steenson kicked two more goals, the second after the lock Tom Hayes turned up on the left wing, kicked ahead and caught Alex Tait on the floor. Much more of this and Devonian expectation will soar.
"We've been working hard with the guys on the mental side, they have to get used to playing under pressure," Hepher said. "But we're on track and at the minute, the guys are so enthusiastic, they all want to play every game."
Exeter Chiefs: L Arscott; N Sestaret, P Dollman, B Rennie (M Jess, 54), M Foster; G Steenson, H Thomas; B Sturgess, N Clark (S Alcott, 64), T Hui (C Budgen, 60), T Hayes (capt), J Hanks, T Johnson (C Slade, 49), J Phillips (Johnson, 60), J Scaysbrook.
Newcastle Falcons: A Tait; G Bobo, R Vickerman (J Manning, 64), L Eves, C Amesbury (L Fielden, 72); J Gopperth, M Young; J Golding (G Shiells, 62), R Vickers, T Ryan (K Brookes, 48), J Hudson (capt; G Townson, 36), T Swinson, B Wilson, A Hogg, R Pennycook (W Welch, 68).
Referee: G Garner (London).