Exeter Chiefs 32, Newcastle Falcons 17
Exeter kept the heat on Saracens at the top of the English 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.
A dull game 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, Will 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.
Wasps 36, Leicester Tigers 24
Wasps saw off Leicester 36-24 at the Ricoh Arena to move into third place in the Premiership.
Dai Young’s exciting side scored five tries in a bonus point win, including three in a one-sided first half, to leapfrog the Tigers who had no answer to the home team’s all-out attack.
Man-of-the-match Charles Piutau scored two, with the rest coming from Christian Wade, Frank Halai and Nathan Hughes in front of a crowd of 22,241. Peter Betham, Telusa Veainu and Vereniki Goneva replied for Leicester who finished strongly but were well beaten.
Northampton Saints 26, Sale Sharks 11
Northampton came from behind to register a 26-11 five-point win at Franklin’s Gardens and move into the top four.
Sale went 11-0 in front after 28 minutes thanks to a Bryn Evans try and two penalties, but did not score another point as Northampton got their act together after the break with tries from Ken Pisi, Tom Collins and JJ Hanrahan to add to Mikey Haywood’s three minutes before the half-time.
Worcester Warriors 28, Gloucester 20
Worcester took a giant stride towards avoiding relegation from the Premiership with a 28-20 victory over Gloucester at Sixways.
New Zealand wing Bryce Heem crossed for a double of first-half tries while Niall Annett was also on the scoresheet as third-bottom Worcester recorded their fifth win of the season.
For Gloucester, James Hook contributed 15 of their points with a try, two penalties and two conversions while he also made their other try for Bill Meakes, but despite his efforts, the visitors could not continue their winning run against their neighbours.
The Cherry and Whites had won all three of their previous meetings with Worcester this season, twice in the European Challenge Cup and once in the league, while they had also won four of their last five matches in the Premiership.
However, it was Worcester who were quickest out of the blocks and they never trailed after taking a second-minute lead through Heem’s opening try.
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